Earlier this year, weeks before students were to take the state’s standardized test, New York Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia traveled around touting the state’s exams as a reliable way to measure students’ progress on New York’s learning standards, gave teachers a chance to vet the questions, and then tossed out time limits on the test. It was all an effort to tamper down on the number of students who opted out of the state’s exams.
In the end, more students— 21 percent— in grades 3-8 ended up opting out of the Empire State’s common core-aligned standardized test in the spring, according to the department and local media, up from the 20 percent, or 200,000 students who opted out last year.
The state’s rowdy opt-out movement has caused several problems for the department which has wrapped the exam’s results up with its teacher evaluations and school accountability system.
So many students not taking the exam has the potential to delegitimize to many parents the state’s accountability system, which punishes schools with test scores that languish at or near the bottom.
The state last year put a four-year moratorium on including the test scores on teachers’ evaluations, the state didn’t renew its application with Pearson Inc. which authored and administered the test and the state is in the process of reviewing its standards.
The federal government requires that at all students take the exam, but the U.S. Department of Education flags states that have less than 95 percent participation. There’s no indication yet of the federal department’s actions going forward regarding states who don’t meet the minimum
Meanwhile, the state department is emphasizing instead the fact that more students this year passed the English/language arts and math portions of the exam and that the state’s educators narrowed the achievement gap between white students and black and Latino students.
Betty Rosa, who took over as chancellor of the state’s board of regents earlier this year, told Long Island’s Newsday, “We made important changes to the assessments this year, and we’re going to continue to look at ways to make them even better moving forward. While it’s not possible to make direct comparisons of this year’s results to past years, I’m cautiously optimistic the changes we’re making will drive improvements in teaching and learning.”
[An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated the number of students who opted out of the exam. The correct number is 200,000.]
A version of this news article first appeared in the State EdWatch blog.