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Regents talk opt-out rates amid uncertainty

Regents talk opt-out rates amid uncertainty

Trump presidency has educators guessing about future regulations

Amid uncertainty over federal education policy, state officials are advancing a school accountability plan as part of a new national education law.

The plan comes as part of the state’s response to the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law a year ago. That law will spell out how schools and districts are held accountable for student performance.

Federal officials recently approved a set of regulations that govern the state-by-state accountability plans, and New York is hoping to have its plan approved by the state Board of Regents in July.

But it remained unclear what, if any, changes federal education officials will make under a Donald Trump presidency. The regulations touch on consequences for high opt-out rates and other controversial issues.

“With the new (presidential) administration, the rules might not necessarily move the way we perceived they would move forward ... or even be made final,” Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told the Board of Regents on Monday.

She said state officials were moving forward based on the rules and regulations the current administration approved over the past month, but they will be ready to respond to any change under the new president.

“We have to be very adaptive,” she said.

The “final” regulations for the federal law, released last month, give state officials until the start of the 2018-19 school year to identify schools that need either “comprehensive” or “targeted” support because of low student performance and academic growth. State officials will have the chance to decide whether to provide schools with a single comprehensive score, a “dashboard” that shows how a school performs on a range of academic indicators or some combination.

The regulations also require states to give schools a “sufficiently rigorous” plan to address participation rates on state tests of less than 95 percent. Fewer than 80 percent of New York students participated on those tests last year, so many districts would fall beneath the 95 percent participation target. And students who do not take the state tests would be counted as “not proficient” on a school’s performance scores.

Many of the regents chafed against that rule in particular.

“We will have to grapple with that, because the feds are telling us that and then holding schools accountable, no matter how hard they try, for a decision someone else can make and will make,” said Education Chancellor Betty Rosa, referring to parents' right to refuse the tests for their kids -- a right she has defended in the past.

But the Trump administration would have a range of options for rolling back, rewriting or ignoring the new regulations. It could ask Congress to repeal the Obama-era regulations; it could repeal and replace them administratively, a timely process. It could selectively enforce and dole out waivers for the regulations, or it could ignore the regulations and govern through non-regulatory guidance, Elia explained to the Regents.

Some educators are hopeful the Trump administration will give state officials more leeway in developing accountability and other federally-mandated plans – part of a “local control” promise Trump and other conservatives have made.

“Whatever you think of the new administration, I think they will allow states to do more of what they want to do,” said Scott Marion, an independent assessment and accountability expert who presented to the board on Monday. “There might be some negatives in there, too. We don’t know, but you might have some more flexibility, as well.”

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