New York schools to be scored under new accountability plan

Plan puts onus on districts to improve test participation rates
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.
State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia.

Schools will learn in the fall whether they have been identified for extra measures of support and monitoring under New York’s new school accountability plan, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said Monday.

The list, which Elia said will be out sometime between September and December, is part of the state’s new accountability plan, which was developed to fulfill the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The state earned federal approval for the plan earlier this month.

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The first schools to make the list are being selected based on academic and attendance data for the current school year.

The state’s worst-performing schools will be labeled as “comprehensive support” schools; those schools will include the state’s bottom 5 percent, based on state test scores, student attendance and other measures, as well as any high schools with graduation rates lower than 67 percent, including students graduating in five or six years.

State officials will start working with schools at risk of not meeting that baseline graduation rate in the spring. Counting the five- and six-year graduates should be enough to lift Schenectady schools above the 67 percent threshold.

“We know there are some schools we will be working with,” Elia said.

A second set of schools, those in which students in subgroups of race or special education are among the lowest-performing in the state, will be identified as “targeted support” schools. They will receive assistance from state officials and will be required to demonstrate improvement over time.

As part of its plan submission to the federal Education Department, the state requested waivers to allow newly arrived English language learners and certain students with disabilities to take tests at their instructional levels, rather than their grade levels. Those waivers were denied.

But Elia said state officials were meeting with federal officials in coming weeks to discuss the waivers, and she vowed to press for their approval.

The federal Education Department approved a third waiver that will exempt middle-school students who take Regents exams in math or science from having to take a second assessment in the same subject.

The state plan also attempts to balance federal requirements to encourage participation on annual state tests with a parent-led movement that casts the tests as wrong. The latter movement encourages parents to “opt out,” by disallowing state testing of their children.

Districts that don’t reach 95 percent participation on annual state tests — the vast majority of districts in the region and state — will be required to develop plans to improve participation. The state will move from three-day to two-day tests in an effort to mitigate some concerns over the testing.

But the districts will be expected to improve test participation or risk greater attention and involvement from state officials.

“They have to be proactive about this,” Elia said of districts.

The opt-out issue also confused the way the state will count test results for federal purposes. Students who refuse the tests will be scored at the lowest performance level. But a second score will look at just the performance of tested students.

Both scores will be looked at, as the state identifies its lowest-performing schools, so that schools with high opt-out rates but otherwise high-performing testers don’t get listed as worse performers than is supported by testing.

Categories: News, Schenectady County

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