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Ed Commissioner disagrees with Fed attempt to punish opt-out schools

Jonathan Burman
New York State Education Department

The state’s education commissioner, Mary Ellen Elia, said she’s fighting a proposal by her predecessor, now the federal education secretary, John King, to punish schools with a high opt-out rate from the standardized tests.

Elia said she and the Board of Regents have made a number of changes in her first year on the job to fix the third- through eighth-grade tests, including signing on with a new testing company that will let teachers write more of the questions, shortening the exams and giving kids more time to complete them.

In an interview with public radio and television, Elia said she believes in some form of accountability but respects parents’ rights to opt their children out of the tests. She said federal King’s plan to financially sanction schools where more than five percent of kids skip the tests is “unacceptable.”

“Parents should make a decision to have their kids take it, but it’s their decision,” said Elia. “Children should not be penalized for that decision.”

Twenty-two percent of students statewide boycotted the tests this year. A vice president for the teachers union said in an op-ed piece that King’s threats could “blow the lid off” the uneasy calm that’s settled over the testing issue during the past year.

King was New York’s education commissioner until mid-2015. He was a controversial figure who fast-tracked the Common Core standards. Elia said she’s taking a more measured approach.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. WBFO listeners are accustomed to hearing DeWitt’s insightful coverage throughout the day, including expanded reports on Morning Edition.
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