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Opt out quandary

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An editorial from June of 1953.

An editorial from June of 1953. Photo Credit: Newsday Archive

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Daily Point

What comes after opting out of tests

The federal government requires that students in third through eighth grades take standardized tests in math and English each year, and requires that districts and schools have at least 95 percent of their eligible students take those tests each year.

The U.S. Department of Education, however, leaves it to the states to make sure this happens, and to bring districts into compliance when it doesn’t. And that’s a quandary for New York, particularly on Long Island, where about 50 percent of students have opted out of the state tests for the past few years.

This is all coming to a head as the state Board of Regents slowly moves forward with regulations designed to comply with the federal Every Student Succeeds Act passed in 2015.

In June, the Regents initially approved a set of regulations that could force districts — after five years of falling below 95 percent compliance and failing to solve the problem — to spend some of their Title I federal funding to increase student participation. That infuriated testing opponents.

The issue got more discussion at a Regents retreat on July 16-17, and faces a vote on final passage at the September Regents meeting. Long Island Regent Roger Tilles says he does not favor forcing districts to dedicate funds to raise participation in testing that he thinks is ineffective and flawed.

That’s pretty much the position of the New York State United Teachers union, which was heavily behind opt-out as a way to prevent using the tests to evaluate teacher performance, and of parent groups like Long Island Opt Out, which fear such tests have an adverse effect on classroom teaching and student psyches.

But it is not the position of the federal government, which sends New York State more than $1 billion a year in Title 1 money.

So the state Education Department and the Regents are caught between two sides that aren’t inclined to stand down, and September’s final vote is likely to leave one or the other dissatisfied.

Lane Filler

Reference Point

From the archive: The temperature of commuters

The Long Island Rail Road is “an unlikely institution indeed to be spreading glad tidings.”

That was the judgment of Newsday’s editorial board — on July 24, 1953.

The occasion was the LIRR’s announcement that thermostats would be installed on train cars. For some of the year, the devices would turn down the heat as passengers pack into trains. In the summertime, they would keep fans blowing for harried commuters on crowded cars.

As the editorial board archly observed, “This might sound elementary to people who live in houses, but it is a new idea for the Long Island Rail Road.”

And no doubt it still resonates today, if temperature complaints from LIRR riders are a guide.

But the board said 65 years ago that its principal worry on this topic was about train cars that sit in rail yards, baking in the midday heat, before heading out for the evening rush.

“The windows are closed, the sun beats down, and the cars get oven-like,” the board wrote. “The fans can whirl to their hearts’ content, but the air is sealed in. This may be all right for broiling, but not for riding. By the time the first commuter aboard has opened the first window, he is near death. It takes more than a functioning thermostat to revive him.”

And you thought you had it bad today.

Michael Dobie

Pointing Out

IDC saga continues

Challengers to the former breakaway State Senate Democrats have another cudgel to use against their opponents this primary season.

The enforcement arm of the state Board of Elections sent a letter to former Independent Democratic Conference members on Friday challenging the IDC’s fundraising practices.

The issue centers around the 2016 creation of a campaign committee led by Bronx Sen. Jeff Klein but set up under the auspices of the Independence Party. This arrangement allowed the IDC to funnel unlimited campaign funds to its members — hundreds of thousands of dollars — which the conference could do only because it was affiliated with the Independence Party.

In June, a State Supreme Court ruling found this illegal — partially because Klein was not an Independence Party member. Two months earlier, in April, the campaign committee had gotten on to the apparently right side of the law by having Independence Party head Frank MacKay take over the committee.

But the situation is still murky, as Friday’s letter from a BOE enforcement lawyer suggests, calling for improper funding to be returned and requesting more information about the illegal setup.

And it’s also campaign fodder. Anti-IDC challengers are calling for the breakaway Democrats, whose alignment with the Republicans gave the GOP the gavel, to return funds from the problematic campaign committee. That could be a real monetary burden for candidates with less money than Klein. For example, Sen. Marisol Alcantara of Manhattan received tens of thousands from the campaign committee before the April reshuffling and had just over $100,000 on hand as of July filings.

Neither she nor other members have returned funds, and the June court decision did not place an injunction on their use.

The BOE has various options for enforcement, and the issue could return to court in the coming months. But the clock is ticking for any clawbacks that might help IDC challengers in their Sept. 13 primary. BOE’s enforcement division began its lawsuit on the subject nearly a year before the judge ruled this year.

It’s good politics for the challengers, though. And just another example of how the supposed reunification of State Senate Democrats has not gone particularly smoothly.

Mark Chiusano

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