Benefits Of Regents Testing Still Unclear

We would have thought the state Board of Regents would have learned by now not to push parents too hard over the right to opt their child out of state tests.

Obviously, they have not.

In June, the Board of Regents approved its draft Every Schools Succeed Act regulations by a 14-3 vote. One of the regulations would require school districts with a high rate of opt-outs on state tests to use some of their federal aid to convince more parents to have their child take the state tests.

To its credit, the Regents shortened the tests this past school year from three days to two days — and then took an extra month to release the data from the tests. As Bret Apthorpe, Jamestown Public Schools superintendent, told The Post-Journal earlier this week, an August release date made the testing data nearly useless for school districts. A September release date makes the information useless for this school year and should make parents wonder if the tests are designed to help their children or simply to allow the state to grade school districts. Susan Mittler, a Regent from Ithaca, understands that dilemma. According to Newsday, Mittler, who abstained from the June vote, said the Regents’ message is garbled and that, “There is not an understanding of what these tests are and why we are asking children to take them.”

Mary Ellen Elia, state education commissioner, passed the buck to the federal government for the harsher stance on opt-outs. It’s funny that a state that fights the federal government on literally everything else would cower over the federal Education Department’s insistence that Title 1 funding be tied to testing refusal rates. It’s also hard to believe anyone with any sort of education thinks it’s a good idea to take money meant to help children struggling with reading and math to convince students and parents about the importance of taking tests.

If testing is going to be mandatory — and that is the state Board of Regents’ desire — then the tests must be useful at the local level so that separate local assessments are not needed anymore. That isn’t the situation now, when, in the best of circumstances the state tests are useless to schools. When the scores are delayed an additional month, it means millions of school children across the state basically wasted four days of their school year taking tests that can’t be used by districts and parents for the upcoming school year. The utility of state tests for local school districts doesn’t appear to get any better in the draft ESSA regulations and, it could be argued, is actually worse if districts could lose money because parents are fed up with the state’s attitude toward testing. The Board of Regents would do well to remember that school districts exist to educate children and prepare them for life after school, not to provide New York state with data to judge schools.

Society doesn’t need a state test and a complicated scoring system to know if a school is meeting its obligation to students and taxpayers. College officials complaining about the percentage of students taking remedial courses to prepare them for a college courseload or business owners’ decade-long complaint that too many high school graduates don’t have the soft skills necessary for the most menial of jobs are a more scathing indictment of a school district than this year’s designation the state uses to denote failure.

We also don’t need a fancy designation to know that the ESSA regulations are proof positive that the Board of Regents has lost touch with parents and taxpayers.

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