Whose Side is NYSSBA On?

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As the opt out movement grows, questions about a parent’s right to refuse and potential loss of school funding persist despite the fact that test refusal has been in full swing for two years now with NO negative consequences for any school districts or students. According to the New York State School Board Association (NYSSBA) 2015 advisory , Managing State Assessment Opt Outs, schools risk a loss of funding and unspecified penalties should less than 95% of students participate in the NYS State ELA and Math tests in grades 3-8. This is a patent falsehood, and a significant one, as this organization advises our local school boards and administrators.

According to the New York State Education Department (NYSED), under the ESEA waiver there is NO direct negative financial impact on a school district that does not meet the 95% participation rate if it is in good standing. In the worst-case scenario, a school in good standing that fails to meet the 95% rate for three consecutive years may be labeled a Local Assistance Plan (LAP) School. While the school will then be required to craft a plan detailing how it will seek to increase test participation, there is absolutely no impact on state aid or Title I monies, and the school district would continue to remain in good standing. These facts have been confirmed by Joseph Shibu of the NYSED Office of Accountability, and were recently reconfirmed in a March 24th, 2015 interview with Senior Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Wagner. You can read that interview here.

An April 2nd, 2015 interview credits NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer with saying, “If even a small percentage of children, 5%, boycott the English and math exams, then schools could risk federal sanctions or funding penalties.” The NYSBBA opt out advisory also warns that schools must be careful in how they handle opt outs: “Some district responses could have negative legal and financial consequences for both the district and school district officials.” Yet nowhere in the regulations or laws concerning education in NYS is there anything to indicate that schools stand to lose funding or Title I monies due to test refusal.

It should be noted that a 2014 survey conducted by the New York State Council Of School Superintendents (NYSCOSS) revealed that 35% of superintendents self-reported that their schools did not meet the 95% participation rate, and that none of these districts have been found to have lost any funding. Despite the lack of evidence for loss of funding, NYSSBA stands by its baseless claims. By putting forth false information and utilizing scare tactics, NYSSBA has essentially robbed many local BOEs of the opportunity to advocate for parents who wish to refuse. This is especially true in districts that are significantly under-resourced where loss of funding would be especially devastating.

The fact is, at every turn, this organization discourages school districts from recognizing parents’ rights to protect their children from a controversial test that no one, save the child, may view. According to NYSSBA the “State Education Department has stated that there is no provision in statute or regulation allowing parents to opt their children out of State tests.” The March 24th interview with Senior Deputy Education Commissioner Ken Wagner reports that “Wagner did not deny that there is nothing in place forbidding parents to refuse.” And it is worth noting that the Empire State School Administrators Association (ESSAA) reported to school administrators on 3/25/15 that the NYS Commissioner of Education’s Office has advised that “while the ordinary procedure is to present the test to a student and have him/her refuse, if a parent asks you to not present the test at all, NYSED has recommended that you comply with the parent’s wishes.”

These actions do not align well with NYSSBA’s self-proclaimed core beliefs in “open communication” and “Public education as grassroots democracy.” Their goal to “Serve as the primary information source on public education” is clearly undermined by what appears to be either a willful dissemination of false information or a failure to do their due diligence.

In response to NYSUT president Karen Magee’s very recent call for parents to refuse the NYS Common Core Test in grades 3-8, NYSSBA president Tim Kremer credits the union with a “brilliant strategy.” With this statement, Kremer once again undermines the role that parents have played in directing their children’s education and falsely characterizes test refusal as a union initiative. It is doubtful that Kremer is unaware that prior to President’s Magee’s 3 day old call for opt out, the parent driven test refusal movement has been in full swing for almost two years with more than 60,000 refusals last year.

In response to the passing of Governor Cuomo’s budget, the NYS PTA issued a statement in which they said, “Today is a sad day for the students and teachers of New York. The Governor, claiming to be the best advocate for children, has tied inadequate school funding to questionable education reform based on volatile state tests…” The School Administrators Association of New York (SAANYS) issued the following statement, “SAANYS and its members are extremely disappointed with many of the education components negotiated in this budget, specifically in regard to principal and teacher evaluations (APPR)” and according to the latest Quinnipiac polls, 71% of the public opposes the use of test scores to evaluate teachers. Parents, administrators and educators unilaterally denounced the bill as harmful for public education. Yet NYSSBA Executive Director Timothy G. Kremer had this to say in about the state budget, “All in all, school boards have been given additional resources and tools they need to invest in educational programs and improve teaching quality” and in an interview on the Capital Pressroom Kremer maintained that “overall, school boards are pleased with many of the education changes.” Once again, NYSSBA is out of synch with parents, educators, administrators, and the public.

It seems clear that NYSSBA has made a choice through their advice to school boards to put as many road blocks as possible in the way of parents seeking to refuse tests that erode local control, siphon school resources and adversely affect teaching and learning, thereby downplaying the concerns of communities across NYS. As the information available has evolved, NYSSBA’s direction to those they advise has not. Without speculating about why this organization seeks to diminish the role of parents in the direction of their children’s education, the effect of their disdain and disregard for opt out has in many ways diminished local control by attempting to silence the concerned voices of parents, and in many cases, school board members. If a school administrator or a Board of Education presents false information to a parent or community, can they be faulted if they are acting on false information from the body tasked with advising them?

While parties may agree to disagree on the merits of the Common Core and the Common Core based ELA and Math tests and their impact on children and schools, shouldn’t those in positions of school leadership be tasked with providing their communities with the most factual information available? NYSSBA claims that “School board members are the educational leaders of their communities.” Is it not then incumbent upon these leaders to educate parents and allow them to make informed, reasoned decisions for their children? It is ever OK for those in positions of power to mislead the public, no matter how well intentioned their reason? Until NYSSBA is willing to advise Boards of Education on how to effectively advocate for the rights of parents within the parameters of the law and until NYSSBA provides fully factual information to our local boards of education, parents and community members will urge their elected board members to spend tax-payer dollars elsewhere.