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New York Education Commissioner Asks Feds to Ease Up on Opt-Out Rules

New York Commissioner of Education MaryEllen Elia wrote a critical letter to the U.S. Department of Education this week saying that punishing schools for having a high opt-out rate on the state's federally required standardized tests would defeat the purpose of states' accountability systems. 

The Education Department's proposed regulations, under the Every Student Succeeds Act require states to label schools subpar if fewer than 95 percent of a school's eligible students took the state test. 

New York's education department said last week that more than 21 percent of its students opted out of its exams last year, raising questions of legitimacy and whether the exams' results should be used for things such teacher evaluations and to rank schools to decide which ones need intervention.  

In a letter sent to the department as part of its feedback regarding its proposed regulations, Elia said that states should be able to come up with their own methods of punishing schools with high opt-out rates. 

"Just as [New York] law requires that no school district shall make any student or promotion or placement decision based solely or primarily on student performance on the Grades 3-8 E/LA and math examinations, there should be no consequences for any individual student based upon whether that student participates or does not participate in state assessments," Elia wrote in the letter, dated Aug. 1. "For example, no student should be denied promotion to the next grade based on failure to participate in a state assessment ... although we recognize that the statute contains the '95 percent denominator' provision, we are disappointed that USDE has not been creative in providing states with flexibility to address the potential unintended consequences of this provision of the law." 

Elia asks the federal department to allow states more flexibility in deciding how to increase testing participation rates. 

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