SARANAC LAKE - More than 50 students in Saranac Lake's middle and elementary schools are opting out of standardized tests that started Tuesday. That's nearly twice as many as school district officials expected.
Test participation rates in two of the district's schools were low enough that they could lead to repurcussions from the state Education Department, should the same thing happen next year.
At Petrova Elementary School, Principal Josh Dann said he had received 26 refusal letters from parents as of Tuesday. He also said he's had three or four other kids who've been absent, though he's not sure if that's because their parents are having them boycott the tests or because they're sick.
Meanwhile, Saranac Lake Middle School Principal Patricia Kenyon said 24 of her students are not taking the tests due to their parents' refusal. At Bloomingdale Elementary, Principal Theresa Lindsay reported that she's had four children whose parents opted them out.
"I thought we'd have 20 or 25 total," said Superintendent Gerald Goldman. "It ended up being double that."
State education officials have said schools whose test participation rates fall below 95 percent both this year and next could face repercussions. If a district doesn't reach that threshold, it will not make what's called "Adequate Yearly Progress," which could affect a district's Title I funding.
With at least 54 students not taking the test out of 593 who are eligible, the district's total participation rate in the tests would be roughly 90 percent, or less than the state's 95 percent threshold. However, Goldman said that the state measures participation rates on a building-by-building basis.
Lindsay said if she had one more student opt out of the testing, her building would have fallen below the 95 percent threshold.
"I just eked in," she said.
But the participation rates at the middle school and Petrova Elementary, based on the number of students eligible for the tests at each school, were below 95 percent.
If the same thing happens next year, Goldman said both schools could be cited by the state for failing to make "Adequate Yearly Progress" for attendance. The state could order the district to redirect some of its aid to create an improvement plan to address its attendance problem.
"I would imagine that the district's response to that is going to be, 'We don't have an attendance problem. Our attendance is fine. Our kids come to school. We have a civil disobedience problem, for lack of a better way of putting it. So why would you, state Education Department, insist on us developing a plan to address a nonexistent problem?'"
If the district is forced to spend state aid money to improve its attendance because some parents opted their kids out of state tests, Goldman said it would be a "colossal waste of money."
Today is the third and last day of state standardized testing in English language arts for students in grades three through eight. The same students will sit down next week for three days of state math tests.
While the number of students opting out so far is more than school officials expected, all three building principals told the Enterprise that the testing process has been smooth with no major issues. Goldman said the same thing.
"We were in communication with these parents; they were fairly well organized," Goldman said. "Fortunately for us, we could sort of deal with them ahead of time rather than having this deteriorate into some logistical nightmare with their kids. We wanted to make sure they understood what our responsibilities were, and we wanted to respect their decision."
State education officials have said there isn't a provision for parents to opt their children out of the tests. Parents are getting around that in Saranac Lake and other districts by sending letters to school officials saying their children won't come in each day until the end of the testing period, and that their tests should be marked with a "refusal" code.
Contact Chris Knight at 518-891-2600 ext. 24 or firstname.lastname@example.org.