The U.S. Department of Education notified states Tuesday of actions it may take, including financial penalties, if the percentage of students taking required tests falls below benchmarks set by federal law.
For New York, where participation dropped below 95 percent in the 2014-15 school year, this means the test-boycott movement may have a financial consequence.
An estimated 200,000 students in grades three through eight — about 20 percent of those eligible to take state tests — opted out of Common Core exams in English language arts and math in April. For the 2016 test season, the movement’s organizers have vowed to double that number.
The federal guidance released Tuesday said that in those states where participation fell below 95 percent in 2014-15, Title I federal funds could be jeopardized if participation again drops below 95 percent in the next round of testing.
Other punitive actions the federal government could take include placing Title I grant funds on high-risk status and directing the state to use such funds to address low participation rates. Other federal money also could be in jeopardy in these states.
Title I, the largest federal school-aid program, provides New York State with about $1.1 billion annually, including $45 million for districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties. Much of that aid is allocated to students in low-income communities.
Federal education requirements say each state that receives Title I funds must implement academic assessments in reading/language arts and math.
The memorandum from the federal agency’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education said it will consider appropriate action for any state that does not assess at least 95 percent of the pertinent students in the spring.
It suggested measures that states could take to boost participation, including lowering a school’s rating in the state’s accountability system in districts with low participation rates, counting nonparticipants as nonproficient, and possibly withholding state aid.
The State Education Department said Tuesday it had received a similar letter in October. In a reply to the federal agency, which was sent Tuesday, Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said the state was taking several steps to boost test participation, including development of a “tool kit” that school officials can share with parents about why the exams are important.
The state agency also is working to reduce the number of questions in both the English and math tests and is reviewing score reports that are sent to parents.
“We believe that these statewide assessments provide timely and critical information on all students so that we can better support students and improve educational outcomes,” the state’s letter said.
Last week, the Board of Regents approved a four-year moratorium on use of student scores on Common Core tests to rate teachers and principals in a way that might jeopardize their job status. The panel’s “emergency regulation” prohibits use of results from state tests given in grades three through eight to evaluate the performance of individual students, teachers and principals.
Michael Hynes, superintendent of the Patchogue-Medford district, took note Tuesday of school systems’ potential plight, taking into consideration both the moratorium and the possible financial consequence of student participation on required tests that is below 95 percent.
“When the governor, Board of Regents and commissioner say these exams won’t count for students and teacher evaluations . . . do they expect a 95 percent participation rate?” Hynes said. “I certainly don’t. I pray they don’t withhold funding from our public schools. It would be a travesty.”