Academic ratings for public schools are restarting this year on Long Island and across the state, following a two-year halt because of classroom disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
State education authorities recently announced they would resume identifying underperforming schools and school districts, as required by the federal "accountability" law.
Those officials originally sought an extended moratorium on ratings. However, federal reviewers rejected that on the grounds that New York had not sufficiently demonstrated "how the request will advance student academic achievement."
Since 2020, identifications of schools facing scholastic problems have been frozen. As a result, 61 schools and 34 districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties continue to be listed as low achievers. At the same time, 590 of the region's schools and 90 of its districts remain in good academic standing.
For schools and districts that need help, Albany has pledged its support. State lawmakers have already approved a cumulative increase in statewide financial aid of more than $5 billion during the 2021-22 and 2022-23 academic years, with additional billions projected for 2023-24.
"Accountability is a two-way street," said Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa in announcing the restart on July 25.
Rosa noted that the restart was required by federal law, adding that her agency would use it as a basis for continued help to needy schools and districts.
Education department staffers said they would submit a restart plan to federal reviewers for approval in coming weeks, with the aim of updating ratings late this calendar year or early next year. Updating could ultimately result in return to good academic standing for some schools, and in lower ratings for others.
Many educators point to resumption of ratings, along with other developments such as lifting of mask mandates, as signs that schools could be headed toward more stable operations in the months ahead.
"While schools continue on their pathway back to normalcy, a return to measuring academic performance and accountability of these standards are a part of this process," said Robert Vecchio, newly appointed executive director of the Nassau-Suffolk School Boards Association and a former board trustee in the William Floyd district.
Vecchio added that "schools have been working hard to measure and assess the academic learning loss due to the pandemic," as well as to design programs geared to make up such losses.
Complex rules and formulas used in rating schools are outlined in the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, enacted in 2015, and in an earlier statute approved in 2001. The law requires students, under most circumstances, to be tested annually in English and math from third grade through eighth grade, as well as periodically in science and once again in all three subjects in high school.
Test scores, along with other indicators of academic status such as high-school graduation rates and student absenteeism, then are applied to creating school-performance indicators. Schools are rated not only according to achievement among all students, but also for subgroups such as racial and ethnic minorities, students from low-income families and those with disabilities and limited English.
Results of these measurements determine whether schools and districts are designated as being in good standing, or in need of improvement. For schools in the latter group there are two categories: Targeted Support and Improvement and the more critical Comprehensive Support and Improvement.
Adding to the complexity of ratings is the fact that schools can be penalized if fewer than 95% of their students take tests. This is a particular issue on the Island, where large numbers of students missed tests not only because of the pandemic, but also because of parent boycotts.
Education experts noted that school administrators and staffs will be wrestling with such issues in the months to come.
"One goal should be to have a system that school administrators and teachers understand, so they know how to get their schools off the low-performance list," said Robert Lowry, deputy director of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, based in Albany.