New rules proposed on opt-outs could affect North Shore


The state Board of Regents on Monday signaled approval for a set of rules that would increase the number of factors used to rate schools and might require schools to use federal funds to try boosting participation in state tests.

One of the proposed rule changes aims to bring the state more into compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act passed in 2015, which requires 95 percent of students to take  mandated tests.

Under that rule, school districts could potentially have to set aside some Title I funds to try to increase the percentage of students taking the tests until it is 95 percent or higher.

Long Island in general has high opt-out rates, with Newsday finding that nearly half of students in 94 school districts declined to sit for state math exams this year and 49.1 percent opted out of English exams.

But while Nassau County and the North Shore  have lower opt-out rates than the Long Island average – with two of five Nassau students and one in five North Shore students opting out of state tests in 2018 – they could also be subject to the rule change.

Herricks had the lowest opt-out rate of 11.31 percent for state math exams and Great Neck had the second lowest rate of 14.83 percent, while Sewanhaka saw 33.64 percent of its students opt out.

No North Shore school district had 95 percent of students take state English or math exams – or an opt-out rate below 5 percent.

The Board of Regents also pitched the Composite Performance Level rating system, which factors in academic achievement, English language proficiency, chronic absenteeism, interim student progress, graduation rates and the “civic readiness index.”

It would also take opt-out rates into consideration when it comes to school rankings.

In a letter sent to the Board of Regents, leaders of the New York State United Teachers said the new rules amount to an unnecessary penalty against parents and schools and put too much weight on the opt-out rates.

“Specifically, the regulations continue the provision allowing the Commissioner to place a school on the [Schools Under Registration Review] list for low participation rates without taking into account the change in federal law,” NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene DiBrango wrote in a letter to the Board of Regents.

DiBrango continued, “Contrary to the [state education] department’s position, it is a financial penalty when the state directs a school to stop spending funds on services to students and instead spends it on convincing parents to have their children take the test. This penalty will not solve the problems with the testing program that led to the opt out movement.”

In a statement, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said, “The assertion that schools could face financial penalties for low participation rates is patently false.”

Ian Rosenblum, the executive director of Education Trust-New York, wrote in a letter to the Board of Regents that the NYSUT letter “distorts the substance of New York’s ESSA plan and the requirements of federal law.”

“ESSA enables New York to define what it means to be a successful school, set clear expectations that schools must raise achievement for all of their students – not just some – and help schools and school districts by targeting attention, resources and support to the places where schools are struggling,” Rosenblum wrote.

Rosenblum also told Newsday that the proposed changes are “a step forward” in higher academic work being achievable for all students, especially low-income minority ones.

There will be a public comment period through July and August, with the Board of Regents set to vote in September.


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