Schools denied chance at Blue Ribbon awards because of test opt-outs
Eleven schools across the state, including two on Long Island, lost their chance to win federal Blue Ribbon awards because of high student opt-outs from state testing in the spring, Albany officials confirmed Tuesday.
George H. McVey Elementary School in East Meadow and Quogue Elementary School in Southampton Town are among those recently notified by the state that they did not make the final cut for the coveted awards given by the U.S. Department of Education.
Nineteen schools in New York State were nominated earlier this year. Eleven schools have been disqualified due to high numbers of students refusing to take Common Core tests.
Local school officials -- some of whom spent up to 60 hours preparing award applications -- voiced disappointment and dismay.
"It's a shame that the government, in deciding these Blue Ribbon awards, is basing it on a narrow test score," said Scott Eckers, an East Meadow school board trustee who teaches in another district. "Almost none of the schools on Long Island would have been eligible under the criteria they used."
In April, parents pulled more than 200,000 students statewide in grades three through eight -- about one-fifth of the total -- out of standardized state tests. Long Island generated more than 70,000 of those opt-outs, the heaviest concentration in the state.
Charles Szuberla, the state's acting deputy commissioner for elementary and secondary education, messaged affected schools on Friday with notification that they would not qualify for Blue Ribbon awards if their student participation rate in testing dropped below 95 percent. That rate could be calculated either from 2015 test participation or from an average of 2015 and 2014 figures, Szuberla stated.
The deputy commissioner said the state had considered allowing schools to use a three-year average, as allowed by federal guidelines, but had been told by U.S. authorities that it could not employ criteria different from that used in determining schools' academic status. New York uses two years' figures for the latter purpose.
"Therefore, in order to be eligible to win the Blue Ribbon Award, a school must meet participation requirements based on current-year participation rates or participation rates averaged over two years, not three years," Szuberla wrote.
Daniel Lewis, principal of Smallwood Drive Elementary School in upstate Amherst, messaged the deputy commissioner back on Friday expressing frustration with his school's disqualification.
"This is very disappointing," Lewis said, noting that he and his staff had undertaken a laborious application process at the state's invitation. "To be found ineligible due to circumstances beyond my control as a building principal, is very disheartening."
The federal awards program, launched in 1982, recognizes schools across the country either on the basis of high academic performance or success in closing the gap between high-achieving and low-achieving groups of students.
Some educational groups that have endorsed the federal and state push for higher test scores also expressed support for the criteria used in determining Blue Ribbon status.
"The idea that you should be able to apply for an award based largely on results from state assessments, when a sizable portion of your students aren't taking the assessments, is just not realistic," said Steve Sigmund, executive director of High Achievement New York.
That nonprofit group, based in Manhattan, supports the national Common Core academic standards.