The $700 million come-a-long

Race to the Top money guaranteed state participation


Why did your school-age children have to suffer through ten hours of tests and possibly the humiliation of doing badly on those tests?

So that New York State could get more $700 million from the federal government in Race to the Top funds.

It’s a simple as that.

Not ready for the test. No set curriculum for teachers? No material for teachers to acquaint students with the skills necessary to take and pass the test? Lots of worry about predictions that student scores would drop by more than 30 percent?

Too bad! It’s all about the money, honey.

On Long Island, 37.5 percent of students in grades three through 8 passed the math test — achieved either level 3 or level 4 — in April, compared with 75.4 percent who passed the “less rigorous” in 2012. In Language Arts, the percentage of students passing was 39.6 percent, down from 67.2 percent in 2012.

If your child was one of those whose scores dropped by 30 percent, I don’t have to tell you what that means in terms of self-esteem and angst. You already know.

The dropping scores have ramifications for school district and staff as well.

According to the New York State School Boards Association, 67 percent of the board members believe that sores will go up in their districts on the next test. They are sure their students will do better with another year under their belts.

Perhaps it would have been better for state to wait that year to drop the tests on the students in the first place, but they could not do that under Race to the Top. The federal mandate was to start the program immediately.

It’s all about the money, honey.

There is a grave concern, however, because under the program, those students who do not “meet standards” must get remedial services.

In 2012, that meant approximately 30 percent of the students had to receive some sort of remedial help, an expensive proposition. Now, however, the percentage of students who must receive those services stands at nearly 60 percent — whether or not the students really need those services or not.

Board members say that academic intervention services are among the most expensive they provide and that they fear that the increased mandate might well bankrupt them or force them to cut “extras” such as clubs, music program and athletic teams.

The association is looking for the state to give school districts the option of providing remediation to only the lowest-achieving students, those in level 1.

The organization’s executive director, Timothy Kremer, said that might be problematic.

“School boards will have trouble telling parents that their children, who might not have scored the lowest, but still need extra support, cannot get that extra help,” Kremer said.

Parents are already becoming angry at the state’s testing program. While most support the Common Core in theory, they are opposed to the way it has been handled up to this point.

Lots of parents opted out of the testing program the last time out, most notably in Rockville Centre.

Just last month, 1,500 parents rallied in Port Jefferson Station to criticize the state’s handling of the Common Core launch.

Comesewoque Superintendent Joseph Rella addressed the parents.

“All of us are passengers on a plane that is being built while it is in midair,” Rella said. “Today, we are cancelling our flight reservation.”

He called on political leaders and elected officials to call on the federal officials to modify the program or to put it on hold until students are ready to be tested.

That’s a good idea. The tests require a wholly different set of skills than previous tests. For the last ten years, teachers have been teaching to the old test and the draconian pre-test schedules have drilled the skills and understandings that were necessary for those tests.

It will take months, if not years, for the new skills and understandings to become commonplace. Until then, it is self-defeating to keep giving a test when you know that 60 to 70 percent of the students will fail.