Having loosened up on some standards for schoolchildren and evaluations of teachers, the federal government is drawing a line in the sand on testing: Students in third through eighth grades still have to take math and English tests, and if a significant portion don’t, states, and thus schools, will lose money.
The U.S. Department of Education notified states last week of actions it may take, including financial penalties, if the percentage of students taking the tests falls below 95 percent. Of course, in New York in Spring 2015 that percentage fell to about 80 percent, and to about 50 percent on Long Island. The timing serves notice to those who have supported opt-out to oppose excessive testing and test prep and the fear they claim comes from tying student scores to teacher evaluations: students must take tests so that schools, districts and states can be assessed. Washington will not budge on this.
In New York, education reformers also have taken a huge step back, decoupling tests from teacher evaluations for four years and promising new achievement standards and better exams. Now the state must convince unions, parents and teachers that they have been accommodated as much as possible, and must get students to take the tests this spring. And they must get participation percentages up in districts that get little federal funding, because the whole state could lose funding if New York participation doesn’t reach 95 percent.
If poorer districts with generally low opt-out numbers lose federal money because richer districts with high opt-out percentages pull down the state numbers, Albany can and should make up that shortfall. It should take state aid away from high opt-out districts and award it to high-needs districts where nearly all the kids take the exams.