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Parents resist tests as kids ‘opt out’

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ICC board adopts $37.5 million budget.

KINDERHOOK–As the school districts around the county roll out their proposed budgets for next year, they are also dealing with a revolt by parents refusing to allow their children to take state Common Core standardized tests.

The Ichabod Crane Central School Board reviewed its proposed 2015-16 school budget at a special meeting Tuesday, April 14. The $37.5-million proposal comes with roughly $500,000 more in state aid then last year. Also at the meeting Superintendent George Zini said that 68% of students in grades 3 through 8 were not taking the Common Core exams.

The refusal movement is happening statewide. Some opponents of these standardized tests, which are not part students’ grades, hope the protest will end the use of what they see as excessive testing; others are seeking to undercut the validity of the tests, making the results too unreliable to be used as part of new teacher evaluations.

The state Education Department says the tests are needed to evaluate student progress and state officials say they will help the state comply with federal funding requirements.

Parents in the district needed to send a letter saying they refused to have their children take the exam. Those children are taken to a separate room while their fellow students take the English Language Arts exam over three consecutive days this week. In grades 3 and 4 the test is 70 minutes a day, and in 5 through 8, the students sit for 90 minutes a day for the exam. Next week students take the state math test.

Chatham Central Schools had 32%, or 155 students, refuse the test and Hudson City Schools had 85 students in grades 3 through 8 grades.

Dr. Neil Howard, superintendent of the Taconic Hills Central School District, said Wednesday that 120 out of 644 students in grades 3 through 8 refused to take the test based on instructions from their parents. He played down the effect of the protest, saying, “If you walk around and talk to the students, it’s not a big deal.”

Superintendent Zini at ICC told the handful of residents at the budget meeting this week that at this point there is no financial penalty from the state for the high refusal rate in the district. “The state is going to have to address this one way or another,” he said of the testing.

He did say that the increased state aid in the budget does depend on the state approval of the district teacher and principal evaluation plan, or APPR. He said the increase of about $500,000 came with “strings attached.”

“If you do not have your plan approved, you do not get your state aid increase,” Mr. Zini said.

But the superintendent also said that district will use the increased funds to purchase new equipment and for expenses that the district can cut from the budget if ICC does not receive the additional aid in the future. “A lot of these are one-time expenditures we can hold off,” he said. The district plans to purchase new calculators and science equipment, a new maintenance truck, fitness equipment and restart the summer and after-school help programs for students.

“You just don’t know what happens with state aid,” he said.

The more permanent additions to the budget include more teachers for the English Language Learners (ELL) department. Mr. Zini said the population of students in the district who need support in learning English as a second language has grown from 53 students in 2009 to 85 students this year and he anticipates the number rising to 100 students next year. The district will also add two special education teaching positions and increase the time for the elementary and middle school art teacher.

The $37,552,000 proposed 2015-16 budget comes with a 2.59% tax levy increase, which is allowed by the state under the tax cap law. The board approved the proposed budget and the measure will now go to voters for approval on May 19. They ballot will also include a $319,000 proposal to purchase four school buses as part of the district’s annual bus replacement plan.

The board will hold an annual budget hearing on 12 at 7 p.m. in the high school auditorium. At that time candidates for the school board will be introduced. Petitions for board candidates must be handed into the district clerk by April 20.

The next regular board meeting will be May 5 in the High School Library.

To contact reporter Emilia Teasdale email eteasdale@columbiapaper.com.

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