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Board of Regents tentatively OKs new state test opt-out rules

A final vote will come in September. One provision requires districts to set aside federal aid to boost test participation if fewer than 95 percent of students take part.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, left, and

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, left, and Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa take part in board meeting in Albany on Monday. Photo Credit: Hans Pennink

School districts with a high opt-out rate on state tests could be required to use part of their federal aid to get more students to take the mandated exams under regulations tentatively approved Monday.

The new rules also create an academic rating system, called a Composite Performance Level, that factors in test participation in each district. The regulatory package passed the state Board of Regents with 14 in favor and three abstaining.

State education department officials, who report to the Regents, said they would invite more public comment on the regulations in July and August and then ask the board to give final approval in September.

Regent Roger Tilles, who represents Long Island on the board, voted with the majority while voicing continued concern over certain provisions he termed “onerous.”

The rules dealing with test refusals are part of a broader package designed to carry out requirements of a major federal law, the Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA, passed by Congress with bipartisan support in 2015. That statuterequires at least 95 percent of eligible students to take state tests each year.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told Regents during the meeting that regulations dealing with test boycotts were prompted by federal officials, who wanted to make sure the state’s ESSA compliance plan included provisions addressing that issue.

“Everybody didn’t get everything that they wanted,” the commissioner said. “But we came up, I think, with a very comprehensive plan.”

Some Regents said parents and others with misgivings about Albany’s testing program probably would be confused by aspects of the new regulations, including the complex Composite Performance formula.

“I think our message is garbled,” said Regent Susan Mittler of Ithaca, one of those abstaining. “There is not an understanding of what these tests are and why we are asking children to take them.”

Only a handful of schools on Long Island meet the 95 percent test participation requirement due to massive annual boycotts.

In April, nearly half of all eligible students in Nassau and Suffolk counties — 91,974 in all — refused to take the state’s English Language Arts assessments in grades three through eight, a Newsday survey showed. The inquiry drew responses from 115 districts out of a regional total of 124.

The new regulations would authorize Elia and future education commissioners to take steps that “may include requiring that the district set aside a portion of its Title I funds to use on activities to increase student participation in state assessments.” Title I is a federal program that provides more than $15 billion a year nationwide, mostly to help students struggling with their math and reading lessons.

Leaders of New York State United Teachers, a statewide union group, criticized the Regents’ action Monday, as did parent organizers of Long Island Opt Out, a regional network of boycott supporters.

Jeanette Deutermann, chief organizer of Long Island Opt-Out, a regional parent network, criticized the Regents’ vote. “Parents were assured no action would be taken against high opt-out districts, and now clearly they’ve gone back on their word.”

State education officials, on the other hand, have said that the regulations cannot be considered punitive.

The Regents’ action was supported by Education Trust-New York, a nonprofit group that promotes higher academic achievement, especially for low-income minority students.

“It’s a step forward,” said Ian Rosenblum, executive director of the Manhattan-based organization. “The regulations simply do what the law says and what the state plan says.”

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