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In open letter, Nevergold urges responsiveness from Cash

BY BARBARA NEVERGOLD, PHD

Over the last few months I have raised a number of questions, in written and oral communications, about the use of the NYS ELA/Math standardized test scores as part of the admissions criteria for Criterion Schools and in the identification of Receivership Schools.  These questions are particularly salient given recommendations made by the Governor’s Common Core Task Force and the NYS Regents’ subsequent adoption of same.  As you know I have also written to State Education Commissioner Elia and Chancellor Tisch (January 3, 2016 and January 21, 2016) requesting clarification of the practical impact of these recommendations and for an opportunity for open/transparent dialogue with diverse education stakeholders.

My requests to the Commissioner have been met with stony silence and disregard.  And Dr. Cash, you have responded to my questions by citing attorney advice that current litigation precludes comment.  This pattern is habitual, so I was not surprised by the failure to acknowledge or answer my letters.  Imagine my surprise, however, to find a letter written by the Commissioner that responds to concerns that I raised and also raises a new question for this District.

On December 22, Commissioner Elia wrote a letter to Patrick Rooney, Acting Director, Office of State Support, US Department of Education.  Ms. Elia states that this letter follows up on an earlier request from the USDOE concerning the State’s plans for addressing the federal test participation rate. (A 95% participation rate is required.)  The Commissioner is obviously speaking to last year’s unprecedented test refusal by over 20% of NYS students.

The Commissioner also appears to be referencing several Task Force recommendations in this letter although she frames her response as follows:  “Per the request of the United States Department of Education, please see below our efforts to demonstrate that we have already and will continue to take actions to address the low participation rates that occurred in the 2014-15 school year.  These actions have been developed after extensive discussions with key stakeholders and are intended to specifically address many of the reasons cited by stakeholders for the significant increase in the rates of non-participation compared to historical trends.”

I am particularly interested in the following responses provided by the Commissioner as they relate to the concerns I have tried to get answers to.

Action Description
Eliminate high-stakes for students by reminding districts that the Department neither requires nor encourages districts to make promotion decisions using student performance on grades 3-8 tests. The Department has communicated to districts that, pursuant to New York State law and regulation, promotion decisions in grades 3-8 should be based upon multiple measures and should never be based solely on state assessment results.  In addition, the Department plans after consultation with stakeholders to take actions regarding the use of state assessments to determine the provision of Academic Intervention Services to students.
Eliminate high-stakes for students by reminding districts that, until December 31, 2018, scores on the grades 3-8 tests may not be included on a student’s official transcript or permanent record. The Department has communicated to districts and BOCES that, pursuant to New York State Law and regulation for the period commencing April 1, 2014 and expiring December 31, 2018, no school district or BOCES may place or include on a student’s official transcript or maintain in a student’s permanent record any individual student score on the grades 3-8 tests, and any grades 3-8 test results sent to parents must include notice of this and must inform parents that the results are being provided for diagnostic purposes.

Dr. Cash, I don’t know if these directives have reached the District at this time, but I understand the digital transcripts of our students continue to document students’ ELA and Math scores.  Please advise if that is not the case or when this issue will be addressed.

Since mid-December I have tried, without success to have questions answered by the Commissioner or her designee and you regarding the impact of Task Force recommendations on our Criterion Schools’ admissions criteria.  It appears that the State only seeks and values input from a select group of stakeholders and that “transparent” and “open” are just words on a page.  Yet, in this letter the Commissioner’s response to the DOE appears to answer questions I’ve asked regarding our continued use of the ELA/Math test scores in our criteria for admission to Criterion Schools.  It’s a contradiction to say that “test results sent to parents must ……inform parents that the results are being provided for diagnostic purposes” and then use those results for non-diagnostic purposes.    I have already heard from one parent whose child did not get into a Criterion school and is questioning the use of the ELA/Math test scores.   No doubt there will be others.

Have we provided this letter to parents?  If so, please share a copy of this letter.

I continue to push these issues because all voices deserve to be heard.  I look forward to your response.

Barbara A. Seals Nevergold is an At-Large member of the Buffalo Board of Education. 

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