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Opt-out movement deprives schools of vital tool for measuring performance

So, now we know: The opt-out movement is based less on serious objections to how state tests are crafted and implemented than it is on politics and obstinacy. Kids and schools pay the price for the terrible decisions made by adults who should know better.

As the 2016 tests began this week, the opt-out movement appeared to be little diminished from previous years, when it corrupted the ability of schools, districts and the State Education Department to measure how well students are learning, who needs help and how to improve the work of providing it. That, despite the diligent efforts of Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, who appealed to parents to take note of the changes made in response to complaints about the questions asked, the time allotted, the link to teacher evaluations, the lack of teacher input and more.

None of it mattered. The state paid attention to the complaints, and significant numbers of parents still kept their children out of the tests. That leaves only a couple of likely conclusions. Either the parents object to the state’s efforts to assess how well children are learning or they are held in the sway of the teachers unions, which have worked diligently to undermine the tests. Either way, the kids lose.

It is axiomatic that you can’t manage what you can’t measure. If the state is unable to draw accurate conclusions about which districts are succeeding and which need help, how can the help be provided? The same goes for individual schools and students. They can do little more than drift.

It goes for teachers, too. Even though the tests won’t be used in evaluations for four years, optimal teacher development requires a baseline against which to measure their performance. Testing helps form that baseline and chronicles change over time. What is the objection?

Plainly, it’s not a problem that logic or attention can easily overcome. But little else is available to responsible leaders confronting an illogical action. That means Elia needs to keep up her efforts, even as testing continues – explaining the importance of testing, the changes that have already been made and those that are in the offiing.

It also means that Betty A. Rosa, chancellor of the Board of Regents, needs to get involved to show that she didn’t mean what she demonstrably said last month when she was elected to her position. But Elia, speaking to The Buffalo News editorial board last week, said she believes she has a partner in Rosa, whom she insisted was misunderstood when she told reporters, “If I was a parent, and I was not on the Board of Regents, I would opt out at this time, yes.”

That seemed abundantly clear, but Rosa must now decide where to place her loyalties. Either she supports the state education commissioner and her commitment to high standards and the tests that lead to them, or she stands with parents who, inadvertently or not, are making decisions that are likely to undermine their children’s future opportunities.

Between her seemingly clear comments and Elia’s insistence that she was misunderstood, Rosa is left publicly sitting on a fence. That cannot be the posture of the top education official of one of the nation’s largest and most influential states as it confronts a challenge to the ability of New York students to succeed. Elia needs the chancellor to be the partner that she believes she has.

This is about ensuring that children are prepared for the complexities of adult life in a changing time. Too many parents fail to grasp that concept, so while the ultimate goal is to educate New York’s children, it’s also plain that if the goal is to be achieved, it’s not just the kids who need to do their homework.