PS 321 has a history of voicing concerns over the NYS ELA and math tests, from Liz Phillip’s NY Times op-ed in 2014, to a 2017 letter to the Regents from our School Leadership Team (SLT). The Board of Regents will be voting on these revisions soon, and our SLT felt strongly that we needed to respond to this plan during the open comment period. Your can read the full SLT letter here.
Earlier this year, New York’s Board of Regents proposed a set of regulations to address the mandate to increase NYS ELA and Math test participation (schools are supposed to have 95% participation). One early plan required schools to spend federal dollars earmarked for the support of the state’s most vulnerable children on campaigns to persuade parents to “opt in” to test participation. Another called for the conversion of public schools to charter schools if those schools showed a persistent non-participation rate of more than five percent. (For reference, in 2017 more than 90% of the state’s districts had non-participation rates exceeding 5%.) The Board of Regents voted to reject these early plans, but they put in place a new revision which only triggers consequences for schools with lower tests scores. Schools that traditionally score lower (in the bottom of the Weighted Average Achievement Index) will have to come up with “participation plans” to increase test participation, while schools that score higher will be relieved of this requirement.
Simply put, in a school like PS 321, which performs well on average on state ELA and Math tests, families can exercise their right to opt out of the state exams without consequence, whereas families in a low performing school cannot exercise this right without forcing consequences on their school. We believe this sets up a two-tiered system that caters to one population over another. Because student test scores correlate strongly with family income, this places an undue burden on schools that serve low income students. A parent’s right to opt out should not be determined by the score their child would get if they participate in testing, nor should it be dependent on the scores of their classmates. The lowest performing schools will likely be in the bottom half of the WAAI even with 100% participation, so any opt out over 5% will trigger consequences. Every child in NY State should have equal rights under our regulations; the right to opt out cannot be conditional upon what school one’s child attends.