Opt-out to sit and stare?

The prospect of a “sit and stare” policy for students who opt-out of the state Common Core tests brought several concerned parents to the March 13 Hyde Park Board of Education meeting.

The tests, which occur at the end of the school year, have drawn criticism from parents and educators, and the question of whether students should be allowed to opt-out of them — and what schools should do with the opt-out students during the test period — is on the table for school districts across the state.

Superintendent Greer Rychcik clarified at the meeting that the Hyde Park district does not have an actual policy in place, but rather a “plan,” one that is not called “sit and stare.”

According to Rychcik, the state has created a difficult situation for school districts because, while it allows students to opt-out of the tests, “[it] will not take a stand and tell us what to do with the students.”

One of the main questions raised by parents at the meeting, including Laurie Melanson, was why students who refuse to take the tests could not be allowed to read while other students are taking the exam.

The current plan is to have students who opt-out of the exams sit quietly until those taking the exam finish, At that time, according to Rychcik, students who have opted-out and those who have completed the exam early are given reading material until everyone has finished the test.

Another parent, Robin Peek, said, “Last year [my children] had to verbally refuse the test, and then were able to read quietly during the exam. My oldest daughter was at Haviland [Middle School] and went to a separate room during the test. This year, there is the ‘sit and stare’ policy, where they are not allowed to read until the first student is finished taking the test.” Such a policy “penalizes students,” she added.

Peek said if the school’s plan does not change, she will pick her children up from school during the testing time. “I believe that this will be more disruptive than just letting them open up a book and read,” she added.

Rychcik said both possibilities disrupt test-takers in her view. “We had students that we removed from the classroom [last year] who then melted down and started to cry because they were removed and they felt targeted.” she said.

“We have other students where we gave them a book to read quietly and they felt singled out and targeted because they were the only one,” she added.

Peek commented on the state’s policy that only students are allowed to opt-out of the tests, saying that she didn’t believe her fourth-grader could make such a decision without her.

Rychcik, however, said state policy was very clear: “The parent can’t write a letter and get the kid out of the test, the student has to verbally say, to maybe that beloved teacher, on the spot, ‘I refuse to take the test.’”

Rychcik said the district would keep parents informed and is reviewing the plan for students who opt-out and added, “Based on what happens, and in the best interest of the well-being of the students involved, we may have to come up with a ‘Plan B.’”

“We certainly hope we get some guidance from the State Education Department that has put us in this very difficult situation,” she said.

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