By Amelia Camurati, Janelle Clausen, Rebecca Klar and Luke Torrance
Thousands of Nassau County students opted out of the state’s English Language Arts test last week, but far fewer students on the North Shore chose not to participate than in the rest of the county.
The North Shore in general has lower opt-out rates than average on Long Island, and the Herricks school district has the lowest rate, with only 11.9 percent of the students opting out.
According to data accumulated by Newsday, the opt-out rate across Long Island’s school districts – save for nine who did not report – was 49.1 percent overall. A majority of students opted out in 53 of Long Island’s school districts and 62 districts reported numbers of 49 percent or lower.
Nassau County’s opt-out rate was 40.7 percent overall with 35,535 students out of an eligible 87,278 students opting out. Suffolk County, on the other hand, had 56,439 students out of 100,141 opt out — a rate of 56.4 percent.
This year’s exam was shortened from three days to two.
The Great Neck Public Schools had one of the lowest opt-out rate rates for the ELA tests on Long Island, with only 16.7 percent of students – or 497 of 2,978 eligible students – declining to take the state exams.
This is a considerable drop from last year, where 653 out of an eligible 2,910 students – or 22.4 percent – refused to take the ELA exams, according to Newsday.
In Manhasset, 19.3 percent of the third- through eighth-graders opted out of the test, a 5 percentage point increase from last year.
Manhasset administrative assistant Patricia Narofsky said 288 students opted out, including 102 eighth-graders, or 39 percent of the 261 students.
In addition, 30 third-graders, 24 fourth-graders, 23 fifth-graders, 46 sixth-graders and 62 seventh-graders opted out of the test.
In Roslyn, 26.9 percent of the 1,442 eligible students opted out of the ELA test, Roslyn Communications Director Barry Edelson said.
Last year, 35.6 percent of eligible students opted out of the test, nearly nine percentage points higher than those who chose not to take last week’s test.
Port Washington saw 688 of 2,554 eligible students opt out of the ELA test, or about 27 percent. This was a drop from last year when 742 students, or about 30 percent, opted not to take the ELA. Traditionally opt-outs are higher for the math test, which Port will hold next week.
As recently as 2014, ELA opt-outs were only at 4 percent. But state testing has become more unpopular in Port over the last five years, spurring the Board of Education to announce it was working on a statement to the state at the April meeting. Board members said the tests were stressing out students and taking away valuable class time from teachers.
“They’re getting worse every year, and their credibility, which started at zero, is now in [the negatives],” said board member Larry Greenstein. “Perhaps we should ask for the resignation of the State Commissioner of Education [MaryEllen Elia].”
The East Williston school district also saw a decrease of nearly 9 percentage points in students who opted out of the test.
Overall, 28.4 percent of third- through eighth-graders chose not to take this year’s exam.
Third-graders had the lowest opt-out rates for the district, at 12.6 percent, and eighth grade had the highest, at 29.3 percent.
Last year, 46.26 percent of eight-graders opted out of the test.
Despite the decrease in opt-out rates, Danielle Gately, assistant superintendent for instruction and personnel, said the school did not approach the tests differently than prior years.
“Certainly there are changes in the assessments, but not our approach,” Gately said. “We believe that good teaching is good teaching, and generally leads to our results.”
The district also saw opt-out rates of 17.6 percent for fourth-graders, 12.9 percent for fifth-graders, 21.2 percent for sixth-graders and 22 percent for seventh-graders this year.
Mineola schools saw generally the same number of students opting out of the tests, at about 20 to 21 percent both this year and last.
Matthew Gaven, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, technology and assessment, credits the district’s educators for the lower opt-out rates compared with the Island’s almost 50 percent average.
“I think principals and teachers do a good job in making sure that parents understand the reason for the test, that it’s not the end all be all,” Gaven said. “We use them as a data point, and don’t spend a lot of time prepping for the tests, so the kids aren’t overwhelmed with that kind of material.”
Sewanhaka Central High School District saw some of the highest opt-out rates for North Shore schools.
Thirty-seven percent of the 2,635 eligible students opted out, almost the same as last year’s 37.7 percent rate.
New Hyde Park-Garden City Park, one of the five elementary districts that feed into Sewanhaka, had a 27.7 percent opt-out rate this year, according to Newsday.
Last year, 37.9 percent of New Hyde Park-Garden City Park students opted out of the tests, Newsday reported.
Herricks’ 11.9 percent opt-out rate was the lowest on the North Shore, and among the lowest across the Island based on data reported in Newsday.
Two hundred and eighteen third- through eighth-graders at Herricks opted out of the test out of the 1,825 students eligible.