With a vote of 14 to 3, the State Board of Regents has tentatively approved new regulations that would penalize districts with significant numbers of students opting out of standardized tests.
Portions of a 95-page document published last month by the State Education Department indicate that the state would like to amend parts of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act in New York. Under the proposed changes, the state would require new “interventions” for districts with fewer than 95 percent of students participating in state tests.
Officials said they would request public comment during the summer months before the Regents finalize their decision on the measures in September.
If the changes do take effect, school districts on the South Shore — the epicenter of the “opt-out” movement — would be particularly affected. In Valley Stream District 13, 37.3 percent of students opted out of this year’s English Language Arts and math tests; in District 24, the figure was 50.7 percent; in District 30, 25.6 percent; and in the Central High School District, 54.3 percent. (The figures do not include students who were marked absent on test days.) In other words, every school district in Valley Stream would be penalized, according to the new proposal.
Officials from New York State United Teachers blasted the proposed regulations last week, calling them “a direct frontal assault on the rights of parents to opt-out their children.”
Under existing state law, schools with less than 95 percent test participation are required to create plans to boost participation. The proposed rules, however, would require low-participation districts to conduct their own “audits” and create committees to develop their plan to improve.
Starting with the 2020-21 school year’s participation results, districts that failed to improve their participation would face a state audit, and schools that used Title I funds — federal money for schools with high numbers of students from low-income families — might have to spend some of that money on increasing test participation.
In addition, the proposed rules would change the way school performance is calculated, putting more weight on the number of tested students. According to NYSUT officials, this would lower the score for schools with high opt-out rates, and put them in danger of being labeled Comprehensive Support and Improvement or Targeted Support and Improvement schools (see sidebar).
Further, NYSUT officials added, in a May 29 letter to Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, the regulations would make it all but impossible for schools to avoid CSI or TSI status if 95 percent of students didn’t take the tests — no matter what the school’s performance.
“This has the perverse effect of making participation rates the most important factor in what was intended to be a multiple-measure accountability system less reliant on state assessments,” the NYSUT letter, signed by President Andrew Pallotta and Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango, said. “All of these provisions should be modified or eliminated, so that no school is penalized as a result of parents exercising their legal right to opt-out their children of state assessments.”
NYSUT also rallied over the weekend at Republican state senators’ offices to urge passage of a bill — already approved by the State Assembly — that would sever student standardized test performance from teacher evaluations.