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Test Opt-Outs Cost New York Schools the Blue Ribbon

By guest blogger Catherine Gewertz

If you've been tracking the testing opt-out movement, you already know that New York state had one of the highest opt-out rates in the country: 20 percent. Now 11 of its schools won't be able to compete for the federal Blue Ribbon because they didn't test enough of their students.

According to Newsday, state officials confirmed this week that 11 schools don't qualify for the honor bestowed by the U.S. Department of Education. According to federal eligibility requirements, states must "rely on their accountability and assessment systems to identify schools for submission" to the national Blue Ribbon program. Schools can be awarded Blue Ribbons for high achievement and graduation rates, or for closing achievement gaps.

And one of the most basic tenets of No Child Left Behind is that schools are required to test 95 percent of their students, or risk facing loss of federal funding. Most states won waivers from key provisions of that law, but the 95 percent rule was never one of the provisions waived. So schools with high opt-out rates would fall short of the federal requirements for the Blue Ribbon award.

That's the news that New York state officials have been breaking to schools, Newsday reports. Of the 19 schools the state nominated, 11 were disqualified because of high opt-out numbers. And there was no shortage of resentment.

"It's a shame that the government, in deciding these Blue Ribbon awards, is basing it on a narrow test score," Scott Eckers, a school board trustee in East Meadow, on Long Island, told Newsday. "Almost none of the schools on Long Island would have been eligible under the criteria they used."

The state is allowing schools to calculate their 95 percent testing rate two ways, according to Newsday: simply using their participation rates from 2015, or averaging their 2014 and 2015 rates.

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