What test would we select to replace the Regents Examinations? [Yes, a test is required by fed law]

Chalkbeat, the online education news site headlines in a recent post, “Goodbye Regents” reports only eleven states have exit exams, an exam required for graduation, the post fails to mention that the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the successor to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965) and No Child Left Behind (2001) requires high school testing.

New York’s high school students have taken Regents exams since the 1870s. But they could become a relic of the past, as state officials start the final leg of a lengthy process to rethink the state’s graduation requirements

There is considerable confusion over the federal requirements, high school exams are required, not necessarily an exit exam.

What are the current federal testing requirements? 

States are required to test students in reading or language arts and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in grades 10-12, and in science once in each of the following grade spans: 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12.

What happens with the data?

 Data is required to be disaggregated by race, income, English language proficiency and other specified categories.

• ESSA allows for the development and dissemination of high-quality performance-based assessments through a seven-state pilot program. Under this program, states can develop and implement innovative assessments. [NYS choose not to participate in the pilot and is currently exploring other assessments in a pilot project with the acronym PLAN]

• While assessments for elementary schools must be the same for all public school students statewide, states may also choose to offer a nationally recognized local assessment at the high school level (SAT,  ACT or Smarter Balanced, for example) as long as assessments are reliable, valid and comparable.

If the required exam must be offered and is not required for graduation a parent can simply opt-out, and many do for the grades 3-8 exams.

Well, not so fast, the federal law also requires a 95% standardized test participation rate for schools, school districts and states. According to federal data NYS has the lowest participation rate in the nation (91%) and only three states are below 95%.

A report from the National Center on Educational Outcome, “The 95 Percent State Assessment Participation Requirement: Current Landscape, State Challenges and Recommended Strategies,” (September, 2021) [Read report here],

… state school accountability systems must include a methodology for calculating the percentage of public school students who participate in statewide assessments and report those participation calculations in state and district accountability report cards. In addition to reporting the results of annual statewide assessments in reading/language arts, math, and science, states must provide annual assessment participation rates for all students and subgroups (by racial and ethnic groups, for economically disadvantaged students, for children with disabilities, and for English learners) (U.S. Department of Education, 2019)

Can the feds take punitive actions if states continue to fail to reach the 95% participation rate? Can the feds deprive states, school districts and schools of funding?

Fairtest, the anti-testing organization says “no,” with a few caveats, [Read here]

In fact, the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) specifically authorizes states to allow parents to opt their children out of exams. Ten states (Alaska, California, Colorado, Idaho, North Dakota, Minnesota, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Utah and Wisconsin) have laws specifically allowing parents to opt their children o ut. None has ever been sanctioned.

FairTest is not aware of a single state, school or district anywhere in the U.S. that the federal government penalized for failing to test enough of its students.

ESSA does require 95% of students to be tested — but individual states have the power to decide what actions to take if too few students take an exam. Therefore, parents and educators should not fear that the federal government will financially penalize their schools if many students boycott standardized tests.

During the Obama administration the US Department of Education warned states, a range of actions could be imposed on states (See details here and read US Department of Education letter appended]. COVID interrupted any actions; however, testing is scheduled for April/May, 2023)

New York State does count opt-outs as a “1,” the lowest category in school accountability; possibly pushing a school into “Targeted” or “Comprehensive” School Accountability category; requiring additional planning and reporting.

The feds have made it clear, they have wide authority to “punish” states that fail to reach the 95% participation rate and NYS has been an offender for years.

Parents did not opt out of Regents, it impacts graduation, if the Regents are abandoned which test would substitute and if the Regents are decoupled and parents choose to opt out can these actions endanger funding? Significant issues.

The state accountability regulations are dense, you can peruse the NYS accountability tool kit here.

The Blue Ribbon Commission has a weighty and complex task.

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