New York Schools With Many Opting Out of Tests May Be Penalized
Ohanian Comment: Of course the good news is that 20% of New York students opted out. Let's hope this is the beginning of The Revolution. Kudos to Loretta Fowler, the superintendent Chateaugay Central School District who supports the parents in her district who opted out--89% opt out. In her words, "Leadership isn't about telling people what to do."
Write her a note of support.
42 River St.
Chateaugay, NY 12920
If the Feds dare to take away this tiny district's $150,000, I'll start a money-raising campaign to replace it.
By Kate Taylor
A drastic increase this year in the number of students sitting out New York's standardized exams has created another kind of test, one for state and federal education officials who must decide whether to punish school districts with low participation rates.
And it is far from certain that they will. Last spring, as anti-testing activists and teachers' unions rallied parents to have their children opt out, the state and federal Education Departments repeatedly warned that districts with high refusal rates risked losing federal funds. But activists derided these as empty threats, predicting that neither the state nor the federal government would have the stomach to impose penalties in districts where parents were already angry about testing.
Under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, the federal government has the right to impose various sanctions on states that fail to ensure all students are tested, including withholding Title I funds, which go to schools based on their numbers of poor students. Under the same law, the state itself can withhold funds from districts or schools that do not have sufficient numbers of students tested. The federal government has never imposed such a punishment.
However, no state has had as large an opt-out movement as New York did this year. On Wednesday, the stateÃ¢€™s Education Department said that 20 percent of third- through eighth-grade students did not take this yearÃ¢€™s exams, quadruple the number from the year before.
It appears that, if it were up to the state alone, there would be little appetite for severe action.
The state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, appeared on Thursday to be trying to walk a fine line -- not wanting to appear to condone opting out, while saying she hoped the federal government would not withhold funds.
"I do think it's good for kids to take the assessments," she said. "I don't think that it necessarily is good for kids to have resources taken away that should be supporting them in their classrooms."
Officials at the federal Education Department have awhile to decide what to do. The state will not officially report its test participation rate to the federal government until mid-December, and the number will not be considered final until sometime after that, the State Education Department said on Thursday.
On Wednesday, the federal Education Department's spokeswoman, Dorie Nolt, said the agency was looking to the leadership of New York's Education Department "to take the appropriate steps on behalf of all kids in the state."
Several other states that seemed to encourage opting out -- in some cases by passing bills enshrining parentsÃ¢€™ right to opt their children out of tests -- have been warned in recent months that they could lose funding. New York has not passed such a law or otherwise encouraged opting out, which could help shield the state from financial repercussions.
Ms. Elia said that federal officials had asked her what her plan was for dealing with districts that had large numbers students opting out, and that she did not have one. But she said she would be speaking to superintendents and seeking to understand why districts with similar demographics had very different opt-out rates.
The leaders of the opt-out movement said on Thursday they were not worried about consequences and any attempt to punish districts would backfire.
If state education officials "think parents are unhappy with them now, just wait until they take money away from school districts," Loy Gross, co-founder of a test refusal group called United to Counter the Core, said.
Elaine Coleman, a parent in Yonkers who is active in opt-out and anti-Common Core groups, said she had already begun planning expanding the movement next year. "WeÃ¢€™re hoping we'll get double the number," she said.
Many of the districts with high opt-out rates were in middle-class areas that receive little federal funding. But a few were so-called high-needs districts, with relatively high poverty rates.
One such district, the Chateaugay Central School District, near the Canadian border, had an 89 percent opt-out rate. Loretta Fowler, the superintendent, said that losing the district's roughly $150,000 in Title I funding would force her to lay off three of the district's 46 teachers. But she said she would still respect parents' choice to keep their children from taking the tests.
"I would say that is their right as parents," she said. "Leadership isn't about telling people what to do."
Dolgeville Central School District in Herkimer County, which also had an 89 percent opt out rate, received over $300,000 in Title I funds this year. The superintendent, Christine Reynolds, said losing those funds would force the district to cut extracurricular activities and arts programs.
She said she did not encourage parents to opt out, but she sympathized with their view that the tests were being used to punish schools and teachers.
"These are very highly educated parents that started the movement," she said. "Their rationale is solid. I can't really argue with them."
Elizabeth A. Harris contributed reporting
New York Times