The Island Park School District successfully appealed a low rating by the State Education Department after two weeks of buzz about how students opting out of state tests impacted the school’s standing.
Superintendent Dr. Rosmarie Bovino issued a letter on Jan. 4 informing the community that, according to preliminary reports from the state, Lincoln Orens Middle School was at risk of receiving a low standing mark and being listed as a CSI school, one needing “comprehensive support and improvement.”
Bovino attributed the potential low rating to a large number of high-performing students opting out of state testing, which she said skews test score data in the small district. This is the first year that opt-out students were included in the data sets. In 2018, about 48 percent of Island Park students opted out of state English exams and 47 percent out of math. In the middle school, nearly 60 percent opted out.
“There is no doubt that the formula used by SED is flawed. It penalizes small districts and those that have a high percentage of parents who do not permit their children to take state assessments,” Bovino wrote in a letter to district parents.
The school district submitted a request to appeal the CSI ranking, which the state accepted. When the statewide report was released on Jan. 17, Lincoln Orens Middle School, Francis X. Hagerty Elementary School and the district as a whole were listed as being in good standing due to “extenuating or extraordinary circumstances.”
“I am thankful that the SED considered our concerns and we will not be penalized due to the unique set of circumstances in our small district,” Bovino said. “We look forward to continuing our high levels of teaching and learning and providing numerous opportunities for our students to succeed.”
State data are based on English and math state assessments given to students in third through eighth grade. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act, these scores determine which schools and districts are in need of academic improvement. For years, the federal and state education departments’ testing procedures have been evaluated and overhauled to determine which school districts need aid.
New testing standards have inspired the opt-out movement, which has gained momentum in the past few years. New York State Allies for Public Education, as well as other community-based groups, encourage parents to opt their children out of the state assessments and educate them about the perceived flaws in the system. In March 2018, NYSAPE posted an article on its website called “New York Schools will NOT be Penalized for High Opt-Out Rates, Contrary to Misleading Claims,” which stated that “no school will be identified as low-performing simply because of its high opt-out rate.”
Bovino’s letter sparked disapproval from members of the Long Island Opt-Out Info community on Facebook, who said they believe that districts should not be scaring parents into having their children sit for testing.
“I thought the tone was very inappropriate,” said Laura Bernhardt, the mother of a fourth-grader at the elementary school, adding that there is a lack of education on the issue and that the superintendent resorted to fear-mongering in the letter.
Bernhardt, who teaches math at another school district, said the formula that the state uses to assess school districts is “nonsensical.” She, along with other community members, said they plan to speak out more on the issue in the coming months leading up to state assessments.
“The system is broken,” she said. “It’s not about a fight. It’s about fixing the system.”
Bovino had not returned a call requesting comment at press time. The Island Park Board of Education will meet on Jan. 28.