Putting it Into Context: New York City's Educational State

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The above map represents districts' test-refusal rates for grades 3-8 Common Core annual testing in the state of New York. Grey districts represent a less than 5 percent test-refusal rate, yellow-orange districts represent a 5 to 50 percent test-refusal rate, red districts represent a more than 50 percent test-refusal rate, and diagonally-lined districts represent no data available. Areas like Brooklyn and most of Queens hold test-refusal rates of less than 5 percent, while certain areas such as those in Long Island boast test-refusal rates of over 50 percent.[15]

When specific neighborhood problems are situated within systems that have significant dysfunctions already existing within them, the neighborhood problems are often exacerbated and widely pushed to the side within popular discussion. This is largely the case with the New York City School system, impacted by the New York State Education system as a whole. In recent years, from 2011 to near present day, controversy has surrounded the New York State Board of Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch in the policy she has supported and actions she has taken.

During her leadership, Tisch, representing the state of New York, was “committed to adopting the Common Core standards, tying teacher evaluations to test scores, turning around or closing low-performing schools and increasing the number of charter schools.”[16] The first two components of Tisch’s planning drew backlash from community members, parents, and educators alike, especially the quick adoption of Common Core testing that initiated “Grades 3-8 take[ing] the new tests before the standards were fully in place.”[17] In response to spoken concern, there was a noted feeling of Tisch’s disregard towards the voices: “She regularly told those with whom she disagreed to ‘calm down’ or ‘tone it down.’”[18] Instead of a collaborative effort from community members representing their neighborhoods and educators within different areas around the state, “it was the Upper East Side way of saying, ‘sit down and shut up.’”[19]

The trickle down effects of these dialogues—or rather lack of dialogue—reveal in movements started in response. In the city of New York, where Common Core testing has been implemented for the past three years, there is a large movement, which is “more prevalent in white middle- and upper-middle-class districts” of the city, to opt-out of the testing.[20] Districts with 30 percent or less of its students qualifying for subsidized lunch had over 32 percent test-refusal rates for the third through eighth grade student body while the test-refusal rate dropped to just over ten percent for districts with 60 percent or more of its students qualifying for subsidized lunch.[21] While all of Brooklyn and nearly all of Queens had less than a five-percent test-refusal rate, Long Island’s test-refusal rates predominantly came in between 5 and 50 percent with significant portions of the area having rates above 50 percent.[22]

The meaning of this gets more significant when taken into consideration with the federal law that requires at least 95 percent participation in the yearly testing. Districts that fall below this percentage “can face sanctions from their state and the federal Education Department.”[23] The educational focus is re-centered in improving participation rates as opposed to what matters more for districts, like those in Brooklyn, that are already complying: the fact that regardless of opt-out rates, the “overall scoring patterns in New York State remained largely unchanged, with black and Hispanic students making small proficiency gains but remaining at least 20 percentage points behind white test-takers.”[24] The core issue, an inequity in educational gains, is shadowed by participation rates. By not coming together on the educational disparity, other disparities remain unchecked in a domino effect—when a child is not educated equitably, it often translates to less economic opportunities which leads to less mobility, less representative positions in societally-perceived higher roles, and less improvement for the communities in question.

Putting it Into Context: New York City's Educational State