Feds Threaten Force Against Districts Over Massive Opt-Out in New York

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There are 124 public school districts on Long Island, and out 101 reporting in,  64,785 of 148,564 children in grades 3-8 opted out of the state English Language Arts test.

That’s 43.6% of the the students so far on Long Island alone.

Federal officials are looking to discredited test-or-punish schemes as a solution instead of listening to parents and educators. For more details, click here.

The federal government is mulling over different responses to districts with large numbers of students opting out. Withholding funds is high on the list, regardless of how much it hurts the children or if it is even a legitimate use of government power.

Another threat being bandied about is forcefully nationalizing the testing.

Meryl Tisch, the New York Chancellor is opposed to taking away Title I funding but she is concerned or perhaps threatening districts with national testing.

It is patently unconstitutional for a D.C. agency of unelected bureaucrats to nationalize education, but nationalized testing could be the camel’s nose under the tent.

New York devised their own tests instead of using the national tests.

“New York is in a unique position,” Tisch said on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show.” “Most other states in this country are being forced into two national tests. New York State took the opportunity over these last several years to build our own state tests, and that is exactly why I am particularly interested in curtailing this ‘opt out’ movement. Because in order for us to be able to have viable state tests, we need a viable number of students in every district showing up to be tested. We need to have valid, reliable state assessments.

“In the absence of that critical number we will be forced, unfortunately—and I truly believe unfortunately—to adopt a national test,” she said.

The politicians are, as Tisch said, “all over the map.”

Whenever politicians get involved in education, from my 30 years experience in the field, they cause more harm than good, and sometimes a great deal of harm. Politics has no place in our children’s lives except when politicians are getting politics out of the way.

Tisch said, “This has been set up so that no matter who we disappoint, it’s our fault.”

In some districts like in Phoenix, New York Central School District, according to the Washington Post, parents were told the state “does not have an approved ‘Opt Out’ process for students who do not want to take the tests.” The district said that “all districts in NYS are legally required by the Federal Government to administer the 3-8 ELA and Math Assessments.”

Students will not be provided an alternative setting, location, or activity,” the letter from superintendent Judith Belfield stated.

Other states are experiencing the same aggressive use of force, but legislation to allow parents to opt-out is moving ahead in ten states.

The bullying won’t stop there, regardless of how harmful the tests might be for children.

States rights and parental rights are being consumed by the federal government and they are being done by force. Taking our own tax money away from our needier children and demanding our children sit for national tests is force.

Parents want to see the government work with them but it’s more likely they will get more aggressive and more brutal.

“I had parents who thoughtfully said, ‘We have to send a message to New York State, and this is how they thought they could send a political message,” said Superintendent Katy Graves of the Sag Harbor school district, where 138 students refused to take the ELA, compared with six last year, Newsday reported.

The anti-Common Core Facebook group “Long Island Opt Out” is a coalition of 50 parent and teacher organizations who oppose the standardized tests who have been working on informing parents about the problems with these tests. They’ve been keeping a spreadsheet on the numbers on Facebook. I linked the spreadsheet below.

The more parents realize the harm these tests are doing, the more organized and determined they become.

Joe Rella with Al Graf
Assemblyman Al Graf on the left with Joe Rella

Comsewogue School District, my former employer, saw an 82% opt-out rate. The outstanding Superintendent Joe Rella and the committed eighth grade science teacher and teacher union president, Beth Domino, have courageously voiced their concerns for the children of Long Island and have educated parents on the issue.

These opt-out numbers are record breaking.

Unfortunately, D.C. isn’t getting the message. They want to punish the districts and the children. They are hinting that New York public schools with high opt-out rates during this week’s standardized tests could face financial sanctions.

U.S. Department of Education officials provided letters recently dispatched to Alaska and New Jersey reminding officials there of the sanctions that the states could either face themselves or should possibly impose on local schools for high testing opt-out rates.

The federal government requires 95% of the students participate in testing in each school district.

Tisch has pleaded with Albany to make changes to the tests including how special education students take the tests, but D.C. won’t do it. They are insisting that states penalize the districts.

Despite their willful blindness, the federal government is going to have to look at the testing because the parents aren’t going to surrender to the government’s bullying.

Meryl Tisch believes it’s strictly a labor dispute but it goes far beyond that. It’s demeaning to educators who care about children to reduce it to a union dispute.

Labor unions come in over the teacher evaluations. People want to see teachers held accountable but not with absurd measures.

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo successfully pushed to bolster the teacher job performance evaluation system to make it harder for teachers to attain tenure using tests that in no way accomplish his goals of targeting unsatisfactory teachers.

The measures he is using make one wonder about his sanity. Not only are the tests being used inadequate to judge anyone, not children or teachers, but NYS in their wisdom has teachers being evaluated by other teachers’ children who are in completely different subject areas. For instance, the music teacher might be judged based on a language arts teacher’s student performance or on the entire grade’s language arts scores for that matter. Under the current system, some of the best teachers are being hurt. Click here for more information.

LI Refusal Spreadsheet

More Information and Here