EducationGovernmentPrimary Education

Why the Opt-Out Movement is Growing in New York

Last week, tens of thousands of children sat out the New York State Common Core English Language arts exams as their parents’ frustrations pushed them to finally boycott the test. In some districts, over 50% of students sat out the test with over 175,000 children opting out in grades 3-8.  And that percent is expected to increase this week as schools gear up to administer the Math exams.

Why is the Opt-Out Movement Growing?

So what’s the big deal? If standardized tests have been around for decades, what is so different now?

The first reason – social media. With more and more parents connected online via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and other networking sites, information spreads like wildfire. Just search for hashtag #iammorethanascore or check out The Bald Piano Guy’s “Opting Out” song (played to the tune of Billy Joel’s “Moving Out”.

Many parents have also formed Facebook groups to coordinate everything from field trips to homework help. Coordinating a boycott is no different and websites have sprung up detailing exactly how to have your child opted out.

Secondly,  teachers and even some superintendents are starting to speak out about their concerns and push back against tactics they see as bullying from state officials like Governor Cuomo.988479_10204803346715347_2368990233909986315_n

What are the Concerns?

Although certainly not an exhaustive list (see sources below for more information), here are some of the main reasons New Yorkers are frustrated.

  1. The exams are not age appropriate.

Many argue they are too long with reading levels far above the grade tested. For example, 9 year-olds are sitting through over 500 minutes of testing over six days attempting to analyze passages several grades above what’s appropriate.

  1. Pearson’s tests aren’t valid and their practices are unfair.

Ever since the Pineapple debacle, Pearson has been criticized for confusing questions on their state exams. Corporate influence over public education has many worried. Since Pearson took over the standardized testing in New York, there has been far less transparency. The full exams are no longer released after the testing dates and schools that purchase Pearson’s Common Core materials have a huge advantage – especially since Pearson reportedly uses passages from their instructional materials on the exams.

  1. The exams provide no useful data.

Parents, students, and teachers can never see the actual results of the tests. They receive a score of 1,2,3 or 4 based on levels that can change drastically from year to year.  Therefore, there’s no way to truly see a child’s progress. What constitutes a “2” this year may have been well into the “3” range last year. Also, children and parents are not allowed to see how they scored on specific questions, and the child’s teacher doesn’t even receive any data on what skills they need to work on.

  1. The scores are used irresponsibly.

The state test scores are primarily used in teacher evaluations despite criticism from many that the exam is not a valid assessment tool.

  1. 1510637_10205129797316408_5114191400887282155_nParents resent reducing their child’s education to a test score in only two subjects.

Parents want schools to focus on the individual, specific needs of their child – not the statistical demands of the government officials currently in power.

How do you feel about high-stakes standardized tests?  And


do you think a boycott is the right way to achieve change? 


Photo Credit: Todd Stahl

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Corrina is an elementary school teacher living in Central New York with her writer husband and their two young daughters. She’s been an educator for over a decade - most recently teaching 5th and 6th grades. She is the current President of the CNY Humanist Association and also writes for In her off time, she loves to read, play Scrabble, crochet, and binge-watch shows on Netflix. You can follow her on Pinterest ( or Twitter @corrinaaallen.


  1. April 19, 2015 at 5:14 pm —

    Many argue they are too long with reading levels far above the grade tested. For example, 9 year-olds are sitting through over 500 minutes of testing over six days attempting to analyze passages several grades above what’s appropriate.

    Yeah.. This one bugs me, a lot.. Why? Not for the reasons most might think. I don’t think kids are that stupid. I do think that you can allow, or even encourage, a lot of smart kids, or even fail to find solutions to problems with poorer performing kids, such that this **may** be a real issue. But, its not the same problem. I nearly lost a grade, and did in math, because I was a) bright enough to realize that my class was being, basically, held back, to let the slowest and poorest to keep up, and b) too damn stubborn to see why, or interpret it as anything (I was what.. six maybe at the time, not sure actually), but an attempt by stupid people to bore me to death, instead of letting me do something interesting. (I have, thankfully mostly grown out of this, but sometimes at my job I get this sense that some things are done because is assumed everyone is stupid, and they won’t mind being bored to death… Yeah, well.. lol)

    The point being – maybe I was well past the class in some respects, and not in others, but… there is no attempt in the system to either recognize this, or take advantage of it, or especially encourage it. There sure as heck isn’t much effort put into figuring out why someone isn’t learning something, treating kids as smart enough to be able to, say, help each other figure it out (heck, I did that a few times, working out how to explain something to someone in a way that no teacher had bothered to consider, and.. got bafflement and amazement out of the adults…) I do not believe, for one minute, that *most* of the kids shouldn’t be, if not 4-5 grades over where they where “expected” to be, like I was, in say, reading (by the time they decided to move me into a program to motivate me, instead of drag me down, a program they decided a few years after I left for high school, “cost too much to run”, they had to send for college level tests to assess my reading skills. This was 8th grade I think…), but they bloody should be at least a year ahead, at best, of what ever stupid “standard” the parents seem to think they are “reading at”. There is no excuse for what level of skill they do have, other than a refusal of the system to solve the real problems for why it fails, which means, yeah, one on one figuring out why a student has a problem, and getting them over it, and even less excuse of the sort of BS I saw with one of my own nieces – whose “mother” (the father was out of the picture) had no clue that her reading level was like.. “looking at the pictures in a magazine”, or that, even after another niece intervened, and got her to a state where her grades actual improved, never the less failed to get the troubled one to treat books as anything other than something other than an annoyance (instead of something worth reading once in a while, at the very least). I keep wondering, since her mother was the sort who would just have flat not given a damn one way or the other, how the heck the schools the kid went to managed to F up so badly with her… To fail so badly that she dang near hit graduation from high school in such a state, without anyone noticing a problem, isn’t just failure, its active and intentional neglect. That parents should be claiming that, “The tests are too hard.”, in common core….. is just proof that even when trying, they are negligent, and the parents are, imho complicit in allowing it, not merely, like with my niece, simply indifferent about their progress.

    How exactly do you fix, “I don’t believe my kid is smart enough to know/get that!!”?

  2. April 19, 2015 at 5:15 pm —

    Well, I see blockquote is working well again…. lol

    Comment was, for anyone unable to tell, to “issue #1” of the list.

  3. April 20, 2015 at 1:30 pm —

    I think another factor in the opt-out movement is the general feeling that NY educational policy (of which this testing is only one part) is being put together and rammed down the throats of the local districts, parents, and children by political bosses in Albany who neither know nor care whether this benefits the districts or the children. Governor Cuomo and the Board of Regents, especially the Chancellor, have responded to complaints about the testing, teacher evaluations, and Common Core curriculum, in a very high-handed and dismissive way. Districts are also suffering from an ever-increasing burden of unfunded mandates and limits on their discretion in running their districts. It comes across as “central planning” run amok.

    Another problem with the testing is that a huge chunk of school time is now spent preparing for state tests, conducting state tests, and grading them (they close the schools for a day or two because they use the teachers to grade the tests), and that has really cut into the time available to actually teach kids.

    Based on the editorial in our local paper, it sounds like there’s also a suspicion that the whole thing is part of a plan to privatize all of public education in NY, similar to how prisons and “corrections” have been privatized, and with the same inhuman results.

    So far, no one has found a way to get Albany to pay attention to the groundswell of dissatisfaction. The Opt-Out movement is the first tactic that has gotten the Board of Regents and Cuomo to even admit that anyone disagrees with them, although their response of course is that they know best and the parents should just shut up and obey their betters.

    I don’t know if the Opt-Out movement will actually change things, but so far, nobody has come up with anything else. As I’ve noticed ever since I moved to NY roughly 35 years ago, they don’t call it the “Empire State” for nothing.

  4. April 21, 2015 at 10:18 am —

    “it sounds like there’s also a suspicion that the whole thing is part of a plan to privatize all of public education in NY”

    Oh, I don’t doubt for one single moment that there are people “trying” to use this as one more method/excuse to pull that. Even in places where some limited attempt to present a unified education exists, its often “unified” to the “local” a-historical, dogmatic, economic, or political view. Which is why a) state education boards, deciding what gets taught, and b) electing those people from among those with no business, or experience, in handling education is a horrible idea. But, we refuse to set a universal standard, save through this sloppy test BS, which is an attempt to push, indirectly, such boards into setting standards that “fit the test”, instead of explicitly saying, “This is what you damn well need to be teaching, you don’t get to distort things!” But, its all a sort of indirect, “If we inconvenience all these people who are undermining education, and trying to force public education into a bigger an bigger crisis, they will just give up, and give in.”, sort of logic. But, its not going to work, because the people who “want” privatization will do everything they can, including using these tests, to push for more privatization. Heck, they might even by right… What way would be more effective to “cause” such a destruction of public education than to make it impossible for it to do its job, thereby making private schools, without the same mandates, and with their own, often, even more egregious political, economic, or religious spin on reality, seem like the better alternative? Actually setting a direct standard, or even trying to, instead of doing this round about, “You had better meet this standard, but we won’t explicitly tell you what that is, or how to get to it!”, BS is not helping things, at all.

    • April 22, 2015 at 9:32 am —

      Note that “privatization” is not the same as private schools. “Privatization” would mean handing over tax money to private, for-profit corporations who would run the public schools with some sort of vague government oversight, but mostly be allowed to do what they wish (in practice, whatever they think will maximize profits) according to the myth that “business people always know how to do things better than governments.” At least, that is what privatization of prisons and of military tasks (cf. Blackwater) has meant.

      • April 22, 2015 at 11:03 pm —

        Yeah. The problem being, there isn’t then much of a difference, at all. Given the recent trend you get, say, the Catholics buying up schools, the same way they did hospitals, or maybe some collection of wackos of the “Hobby Lobby” stripe – who turn around and make “religious objections” about what sort of everything from sex ed, to food, to science, to you name it, they “object to teaching, because it offends them”. And, that is without getting into the BS anti-regulation economic models, and other things, which already find their way into schools, through state boards, chock full of morons, who got their by peddling finctions, lies, sound bites, and claims about how they want to “fix” things (while, often, out of the direct public, stating straight out that their goal is to ‘end’ the system).

        No.. Best case, some company like Microsoft throws masses of money at it, and the government does real oversight. Worse case, there is no oversight, its some wack jobs like the Kochs that end up funding the schools, and the whole thing turns even more into a sort of half prison, half Walmart, type mess, where its all done as cheap as possible, with as much political spin as they can manage, and with as poorly paid employees (and smallest number) they can manage, while either hyper-capitalist morons, and/or right wing religious people, push even more stupid things on them than we already see in some states.

        Good example of the nonsense we already get – Louisiana’s invisible fig leaf, in which its proponents claim that a) they need to create conditions in which the “lord” is safe in classrooms, while denying that this will be teaching creationism, then, when its pointed out how much crap is already going on, insists that, “No, that can’t be, our new law wouldn’t allow stuff that horribly blatant!” Yeah… couldn’t be that the law, sort of like some of the BS the NSA tried to get passed, with say, encryption rules and backdoor government access, was **actually** intended to legalize the stuff they are already doing… Nope, they are fighting against the evil people preventing them from doing it, by making it legal… Some days I seriously wonder how I managed to wake up in a parallel universe where this kind of insane BS actually happens…

        Anyway.. like I said – corporations running things even more closely than they do already = same thing as handing it over to private companies, with no oversight, and no control. Because, even if we start out with any, it won’t “stay” that way. Having broken the purely public, state board run, system, they will turn on the laws designed to make sure things even pretend to work, the same way they are already attacking any and all laws to regulate.. anything, from pollution issues, to tax codes, to… you name it. Under the current environment, the corporations most likely to “get” such a deal would probable be F-ing Faux News, or something…

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