Senators urge presidential intervention

Federal regulation puts local funding in jeapardy


State Sens. John Brooks (D-Seaford), Todd Kaminsky (D-Long Beach) and George Latimer (D-Westchester) requested, in a recent letter, that President Donald Trump abolish legislation that punishes school districts with high opt-out rates for standardized tests.

“Parents have a priority right to make decisions regarding the education of their own children,” Latimer said. “When parents believe that the actions of the government is negatively affecting their child’s education, they will take steps to protect their children. Instead of punishing schools and school children, we should fix the problem.”

Standardized testing participation requirements, however, can be used to block funds for schools with a significant number of parents who opt their children out of the exams. “The Department of Education’s implementation of regulation (Section 200) requires states to deny specific federal funding to any school district when more than 5 percent of the students opt out of standardized testing,” the letter explained. “These regulations clearly intend to punish schools and children when concerned parents opt their children out of the tests.”

The legislation is part of the Every Student Succeeds Act, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama in December 2015 with broad bipartisan support. It effectively reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and addressed issues such as testing requirements, accountability, grant distribution and teacher evaluations. It also replaced the No Child Left Behind Act, in an attempt to reduce the role of the federal government in education.

The letter requests that the president delete a section of the ESSA that specifies that actions must be taken against schools that do not meet the 95 percent participation requirement. “It is simply wrong to deny schools their funding for low testing participation rates,” Brooks said. “Our schools and students deserve the best resources possible and that should never be withheld because parents and students have opted out of excessive testing.”

Kaminsky agreed, “Schools should not be punished when parents and students exert their right to opt out of standardized tests,” he said.

Nassau County school districts reported in 2016, that nearly 58,000 of about 115,000 eligible students in grades three through eight opted out of the tests, marking a 50.1 percent island-wide refusal rate, according to a study conducted by Newsday.

“This regulation is a significant overreach by the federal government that fails to account for the legitimate concerns of those who worry that testing has become a one-size-fits-all mentality,” Kaminsky said. “Instead of trampling on local school districts, the federal government should be supporting their efforts and the efforts of states to improve our education system.”

The Department of Education will conduct a peer review process of New York’s plans for the legislation’s implementation by Sept. 18, 2017.