Monday, August 24, 2015

Feds Told NY State that Financial Penalities for Opt-Outs up to State

 Update: well, this is interesting.

I wrote to the DOE on this question of what they said publicly.  Here's their statement(note my highlights):

Here is what we’ve said publicly on this issue, which would apply to any state where districts or schools fall below 95% participation rate:

“It is the responsibility of states to ensure that all students are assessed annually because it gives educators and parents an idea of how the student is doing and ensures that schools are paying attention to traditionally underserved populations like low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners. The Department has not had to withhold money - yet - over this requirement because states have either complied or have appropriately addressed the issue with schools or districts that assessed less than 95 percent of students."
I wrote to OSPI, asking them whether they had this information about the feds tossing the ball on "punishment" back into the states' court.
Here's what I asked:

1) DOE is saying they stated the first paragraph publicly and it seems (I stress "seems") to say that the states will be the ones to try to convince parents to not opt out again.

(It seems more a carrot than a stick approach but if teachers/administrators got panicky, they might push too hard on parents.)

Did the DOE give any guidance on "appropriately addressed the issue" to Washington State OSPI?

2) When I asked Superintendent Dorn last week about this issue, he said he wasn't "punishing anyone" and that it was up to the feds.  Does he stand by that statement?

3) If the Superintendent saw the DOE's statement on this issue, what is his interpretation?  Because I read it as if they WANT the states to work on the issue but that they MAY still do something.  (See that "yet" in there; seems ominous to me.)

Here's is what I heard back from OSPI:

1. We have been talking to the DOE but have yet to receive any firm guidance yet on this issue. 

2. Yes. Any punishment(s) will come from the feds, not the state. 

3. Randy hasn't seen the DOE's statement so I can't say what his interpretation is. 
So I take all this to mean that:
1) The Feds are being coy on if they will bring down the financial hammer.
2) Washington State, at least, is not going to bring on any sanctions.  

End of update

The NY Times has devoted much coverage to the issue of how the state/feds would deal with the massive number of students who opted out of their state testing (about 20%).  Naturally that number of opt-outs caused NY state to fall way below the feds' required participation rate of 95% under NCLB.  That below-the-mandated rate meant possible financial sanctions to states (likely withholding of some Title One dollars).

I missed this but on August 20th, the Times reported this:

As recently as last week, the state education commissioner, MaryEllen Elia, said that she was not sure if the federal Education Department would withhold money from districts with high opt-out rates. She declined to rule out the possibility that the state would do so on its own.

But on Thursday, the chancellor of the State Board of Regents, Merryl H. Tisch, said that the federal Education Department informed the state’s Education Department “a couple of weeks ago” that it was leaving any decision about financial penalties to the state. And Ms. Tisch, whose board oversees the state agency and appoints the commissioner, said the state did not plan to withhold money from districts.

But, the Washington Post reports that Ms. Elia also said this:

“I think opt-out is something that is not reasonable. I am absolutely shocked if, and I don’t know that this happened, but if any educators supported and encouraged opt-outs, I think it’s unethical.”

Again, from the Times' story:

School officials need to know, Ms. Tisch said, that “they have to be responsible to work with parents to explain why the testing system is so important to the district and to the school.”

What about parents?

Asked about opt-outs on Thursday, the governor, a Democrat, sounded almost resigned about the issue. “At the end of the day, parents are in charge and parents make the decisions,” he said.

Loy Gross, co-founder of a test refusal group called United to Counter the Core, said this:

“I think parents who are most informed and educated about the nature of the tests are the very parents who are opting out,” she said. “So she can direct the superintendents to say anything they want to — I don’t think it’s going to have an impact on the opt-out rate.”

I have a call into the Department of Education because this will be quite interesting if the feds have punted the ball back to the states.  As I reported in the second in my series on Washington State SBAC testing, Superintendent Dorn said he wasn't going to punish anybody and that it was up to the feds.

So if the feds are letting NY state off the hook, it may be true for other states (that's my question to the feds).  

I think that the shift is not to punish schools - because, after all, that will hurt kids - but to put the thumb screws on teachers/administrators who support/remain neutral/look the other way on opt-outs in their schools/districts.  That's fine if state superintendents send out that kind of directive except that I have found that you get some zealots who swing way the other way.  Meaning, you can get teachers and administrators who say things to parents and students about not taking the test that are categorically not true ("you won't graduate" "you won't be eligible for any scholarships").

Many ed reform organizations as well as states are going fairly batshit crazy to stop the opt-out movement from growing.  To my great surprise, both the NY Times and the Washington Post had editorials - coincidentally(?). both in the last week or so, against opting out.  This demands a much longer thread on this topic and I'll get to that soon.


Anonymous said...

These SBAC tests, and Amplify/Beacon/Benchmark tests too, are unethical.

I have no power to make this education system make sense.

The ONLY power I have is to 'protest' the stupid tests by NOT having our children sit for them.

Our children get NO benefit from them, their teachers get NO benefit from them (teachers are competent, they know how to figure out what our kids strengths and weaknesses are and how to help support them grow WITHOUT THESE tests).

So, since our Board can't vacate the tests, and apparently, OSPI won't vacate or set aside this testing regime, it is up to the PEOPLE, specifically, the PARENTS.

Parents, you have the power. DO NOT LET YOUR KIDS TAKE THE SBACs.

IF WE ALL OPT OUT, then, the feds taking away funding will be totally stupid. They can't ignore all of the people all of the time.

If we all stay home and sit it out, it is essentially jury nullification. They won't have the moral authority to enforce a bad and wholly rejected law.

I have no problem with standardize tests, as long as they are really well-normed and non-intrusive, for a simple vehicle to 'take the temperature' of how things are going. The key is NON INTRUSIVE. A simple achievement test, no more than 40 minutes in elementary, an hour in high school, for math and language arts. That I wouldn't have a problem with. But the SBAC is utter nonsense.

If they think they are scarring me by threatening about the money, they are total whack jobs. This is America after all, we are independent thinkers who can and will critically think for ourselves. If they were looking for deaf, dumb, blind sheep, they should have picked a different country.

Actually, I hope the opt outs do grow, and, the feds try and take away money punitively, as that will cause a huge ruckus and push the issue to a critical tipping point. It may be too late for public education, but I certainly hope we can take back the schools!

Opted Out (and now mad)

Anonymous said...

And then there's this:

-- Ivan Weiss

Anonymous said...

And then there's this:

--- Who Knows

Melissa Westbrook said...

Ivan, that's an interesting poll because I have seen other polls that don't support opting out (which I'm not sure is the public's call but it is parents').

What I think this speaks to -in VOLUMES - is that the public largely supports testing but, like parents and teachers, believes it is a single data point and should be minimal and looked at holistically.

dan dempsey said...

"and ensures that schools are paying attention to traditionally underserved populations like low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners."


Does the fact that various subgroups are reported annually indicate anyone is paying attention?

Check out scores for rural Native American's over the last decade. Check out the percent of African American 8th grade students scoring at level 1 (far below standard) in math.

Paying Attention ??? what does that mean?

Anonymous said...

"and ensures that schools are paying attention to traditionally under served populations like low-income students, students of color, students with disabilities and English language learners."

Are ELL, color or low income students covered under federal laws and funded like special ed?(SES) You see the district receives millions ($9K) extra per SES and still fails to serve a large percentage of SES. A percentage of SES or also students of color and ELL and low-income. How's that handled ?

SES parent

mirmac1 said...

SES is not for special education. In fact, I'll bet tutoring and support is likely deprived students with disabilities because, as some idiots say "they have their OWN money". SES is for Title 1. Namely those children that are poor, English-speakers, in low-performing schools and are NOT disabled. Check your "facts".

Charlie Mas said...

It has been my experience that student families are much, much better informed on the issues of concern to them than the school district officials.

And it makes sense. School district officials have to build a knowledge base on a wide variety of issues - the rules around enrollment, IDEA, ELL, state laws and regulations, District policies, and much more. They can't gather deep details about any individual issue and can't hold them all in their heads. A parent or guardian with a narrow interest, however, focuses largely on that single issue and, therefore, often knows more about it and knows it better than the school district officials.

The problems come when district officials have a need to appear to be the authorities on the issue when in conversation with student family members who actually know more.

This is the case with just about every issue, including testing. That's why it is the more engaged and informed families who are opting out and why the school district officials are unable to persuade them to participate.

john robert said...

Very informative – Good Post