A series of steps the state Department of Education has taken to shorten tests and review education standards should limit the number of parents who decide to opt out their kids from state tests this spring, according to New York’s education commissioner.
In a letter to the U.S. Department of Education, MaryEllen Elia spelled out how the state education department and the New York Board of Regents plan to address the concerns of parents, who pulled their kids out of annual state assessments in droves last spring. Over 200,000 students — or about 20 percent of the state’s public-school enrollment — refused to take the tests.
'If a state education agency fails to comply with the assessment requirements, the (federal) education department has a range of enforcement actions at its disposal.'
-- Monique Chism, U.S. Department of Education
The state’s high opt-out rates drew the ire of federal officials, who say New York’s testing participation didn’t meet federal requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which requires annual state tests for students in grades three through eight.
“If a state education agency fails to comply with the assessment requirements, the (federal) education department has a range of enforcement actions at its disposal,” Monique Chism, of the U.S. Department of Education, wrote to Elia in October.
Those enforcement actions include withholding federal funding.
Education officials in New York have moved toward shortening the length of the tests — striking a reading passage and some math questions — as well as hiring a new testing vendor and involving more teachers in the development of the tests.
In an effort to appease upset parents, officials also developed a review of education standards and have held public forums across the state.
The state also said it plans to release more test questions than before, improve special accommodations for students, and reiterate to districts that results on annual assessments should not by themselves be used to make decisions about student promotion.
“The Board of Regents and I understand the importance of a high-quality, annual statewide assessment system that includes all students,” Elia wrote in a December response to the federal government.
But one of the leading groups in last year’s so-called “opt-out movement” vowed that parents will continue to keep their kids from the annual tests until Common Core standards are removed and major changes are made to the state tests.
“These are just recommendations, and how it gets done is going to be key,” Lisa Rudley, president of New York State Allies for Public Education — a big opt-out group — said during a PBS news show last month.
During the same show, Schenectady City School District Superintendent Larry Spring said he thinks parents are more comfortable with tests if they are confident the results will be used to improve their child’s learning.
Spring said his district asked parents who opted out of state assessments to let their children take a locally developed assessment that was used to measure students’ learning needs.
“When parents feel that testing is not being done for their kids, that’s when they begin to remove consent,” he said.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, [email protected] or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.