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NCLB Outrages

State may charge districts $5.93 per student to take Regents exams

Ohanian Comment: Chalk it up to Race to the Top: The Feds rule. As the Common Core Standards and testing take over, why pay for Regents?

The Regents, draconian as they may be, represent "local control" at the level of the New York State Department of Education. Now even they are throwing in the towel, ceding their authority to the federal Race to the Top.

I was happy for the two-tier diploma system in New York, because it meant lots of "those" kids got a high school diploma. If you don't think the Race to the Top, one-size-fits-all Common Core Standards diploma will be a disaster, look at this sample question from Appendix (a) (3)-A of PARCC (Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) application for the federal grant to align K-12 assessment system with the Common Core State Standards: http://www.fldoe.org/parcc/pdf/a3a.pdf

English/Language Arts Literacy Examples ELA-1 and ELA-2: Focused Literacy, Extended Constructed Response Type, p. 684

Example #5
Analyze the concept of mass based on a close reading of Gordon Kane's "The Mystery of Mass" and cite specific textual evidence from the text to answer the question of why particles have mass at all. Students explain important distinctions the author makes regarding the Higgs field and the Higgs boson and their relationship to the concept of mass.

I dug up the Scientific American article that hapless students were supposed to read to answer this question. I confess: I could not make myself plow through it. When he finally stopped laughing, my husband (Ph.D Physics, Princeton) said, "No undergraduate student in physics anywhere in the country can answer this question."

When you're out to destroy public education, this sort of thing gets funded--with taxpayer dollars.

By George Basler

School districts across New York might have to reach for their checkbooks if their students take state-required Regents examinations.

State education officials are considering a plan to charge school districts $5.93 per student each year to cover the costs of developing and administering the exams.

The charge may be needed to cover the rising cost of the Regents program due to inflation, the addition of exams, increased costs of vendor contracts and the need for more security, state officials said.

Naturally, Southern Tier school administrators worry any new fees would be an additional financial burden at a time of state aid cuts, increased costs for pensions and health insurance, and pressure to get students to score higher on state tests.

"I will be simple and direct. I view it as another unfunded mandate," said Suzanne McLeod, superintendent of the Union-Endicott Central School District.

But Burman noted: "In light of the state's dire fiscal situation, the Regents are thinking about various actions they can take proactively to ensure the continued viability of our Regents exam testing program."

Chargeback system

The new charge, if approved, would come at a time when school districts are already facing a bleak budget picture, Tier administrators said. They point to a $1.4 billion cut in school aid statewide for this academic year, a pending freeze or cut next year and a possible mid-year cut. Incoming Gov. Andrew Cuomo is also talking about a property tax cap.

"It is another way of shifting the burden to local districts and taxpayers. It's another unfunded mandate for us," said Mary Hibbard, superintendent of the Whitney Point Central School District.

How the state would charge local districts for Regents exams must still be determined. In his memo, King recommends "a chargeback system" that could be calculated in a number of different ways. They include:

* Charging districts annually based on the relative number of exams administered in the previous year.

* Developing a chargeback based on the estimated average costs of all Regents exams.

* Using a "census" method that would calculate a per student amount by dividing the total cost of all Regents exams by the total number of students statewide. Districts would then be charged based on their enrollment. This approach yields a cost of $5.93 per student and would be the easiest to administer.

If the state adopts the "census" method, annual charges would range from about $3,700 in the Deposit school district, Broome County's smallest, to $36,000 in Binghamton, the region's largest, according to calculations based on 2009 enrollment figures from the Broome-Tioga Association of Chief School Administrators.

Changes needed

The proposed changes come in the wake of moves by the state Education Department earlier this year to cut costs in the Regents exam program by $7 million through a number of changes, including the elimination of component retesting in math and English Language Arts, and eliminating social studies exams for grades five and eight.

The state Education Department is facing its own financial problems and needs to save money, said Bonnie Hauber, superintendent of the Deposit Central School District.

So cuts are understandable, Hauber said, adding she supports some of the state's actions, including cutting the number of exams.

Charging districts for the exams, however, is not the way Hauber wants to go.

Other school officials openly question if the state can continue to afford the Regents program as it now stands, and whether the exams are even necessary as the state moves to adopt national standards and new assessments under the federal Race to the Top program.

The state should continue Regents exams in the core subjects of math, English, science and social studies, said McLeod, of Union-Endicott.

"But do we need all the other areas? I think we could develop exacting local exams on our own," she said.

In the short term, if the state charges for Regents exams, Union-Endicott will have to make a cut in another area to cover the cost, McLeod said.

"Something's got to give," McLeod noted.

Thomas Douglas, superintendent of the Chenango Valley Central School District, said: "It will be a cost passed on to local consumers."

The idea of charging for Regents exams is outlined in a memo to the Board of Regents' Subcommittee on State Aid by John King, senior deputy commissioner for education.

The imbalance between the available resources and the costs of administering the Regents exam program is "anticipated to be a recurring issue for the department," King said in the memo. "We are exploring the widest range of options."

Charging districts for Regents exams would be one of those options if the 2011-12 state budget does not include $15 million requested by the state Education Department to continue giving current exams and restoring some planned cuts, including the elimination of January Regents exams after this school year.

The alternative, if lawmakers fail to approve the $15 million, would be the elimination of all remaining Regents exams not required for federal accountability, including French, Spanish, U.S. history and government, global history and geography, physics, chemistry, Earth science and geometry, King said.

A state spokesman emphasized the options are just proposals. The Board of Regents has taken no action, and it's not clear at this point which, if any, of the proposals will be adopted, said Jonathan Burman, with the state education department.

— George Basler



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