300,000 Student Estimate Used By Some NY Outlets Was Way Off The Mark

image from assets.nydailynews.com
Way back in the Spring during test-taking season, there was little if any official information available about the numbers of parents who were opting their kids out of standardized tests. But there was no shortage of spin and speculation and wishful thinking. 

That left news outlets who wanted to cover the story with a tough call: whether to use the numbers being put out by advocates or whether to hold off?  Use the unofficial numbers and you might end up looking bad. Hold off and you don’t have as bold of a headline or as much of a story as your competitors might be producing.

The dangers of “over-relying on anecdotes and activists’ claims” was an issue I raised in a Columbia Journalism Review piece (Common problems with Common Core reporting) focused on coverage of New Jersey. In the case of New York, at least, we now know that holding off rather than using advocates’ estimates turns out to have been the better bet.  

The number being projected by opt-out advocates (who naturally wanted to promote and popularize the trend) was 300,000 students. This week, when the official number came out from the NY State education department came out, it was more than 200,000 students.

That’s still a big number — much bigger than the previous year’s 70,000– but it make the 300,000-student estimate for 2015 wrong by a whopping 100,000 students.

This NY Daily News story features the 300,000 estimate prominently in a quote from a district superintendent:“From what I’m hearing from other superintendents, it could be at least 300,000 students across the state that opted out,” said William Cala, superintendent of Fairport Central School District near Rochester.” The dramatic figure is also featured prominently in the graphics package (see top).

Related posts: Mainstream Coverage Of NY Testing All Over The PlaceCommon problems with Common Core reportingThis Is What An Opt-Out Protest Looks LikeMixed (Predictable) Reactions To My CJR Common Core Reporting Piece.

Alexander Russo

Alexander Russo is a freelance education writer who has created several long-running blogs such as the national news site This Week In Education, District 299 (about Chicago schools), and LA School Report. He can be reached on Twitter at @alexanderrusso, on Facebook, or directly at alexanderrusso@gmail.com.