ALBANY New York's new education commissioner offered sharp criticism this week of the growing movement to refuse the state's standardized tests, calling it an unreasonable action that can hurt schools and children.
At an education conference Thursday in New York City, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia was asked for her thoughts on the opt-out movement, which grew to include as many as 20 percent of New York students in grades 3-8 last school year — quadrupling from the previous year.
Elia responded with a forceful critique, highlighting its potential ramifications while issuing a warning to sympathetic educators.
"Let me say this very clearly: I think opt-out is something that is not reasonable," she said at the Educators 4 Excellence conference in Manhattan. "I understand that it came about as a result of people wanting to become involved in what they thought was the political way to approach it."
She continued: "If any educator supported or encouraged opt-outs, I think it's unethical."
In total, about 200,000 students refused the tests or were absent for them, though some districts saw opt-out rates well about 50 percent.
The sharp increase stemmed from protest groups formed by parents who have been upstate with various state education policies, including its implementation of the more-stringent Common Core education standards, which the exams are based on.
Elia noted the federal government can choose to withhold some funding from districts or schools with low participation rates on the tests, which schools are required to administer under state and federal law.
But Merryl Tisch, chancellor of the state Board of Regents, told The New York Times the federal government has already left the funding decision in the state's hand. The state has no intention of docking districts' funding, she said.
"I think when you withdraw money from a school district, what you're doing is you're hurting the kids in the school district," Tisch told the Times on Thursday. "So I don't think that's an effective way to deal with it."
Former Western New York State Regent Bob Bennett told 2 On Your Side he expects districts with low participation rates on the tests will face penalties in the future.
"It wouldn't surprise me if there's a severe financial consequence to the district," he said. "If you don't obey the law, and if you don't do what you're supposed to do, you should pay a consequence. I think the commissioner will do whatever the law allows, or get some new laws on the books, to say you can't do this anymore."
The Board of Regents is the state's education policy board. The board appointed Elia to her top state education job last month. Bennett stepped down as Western New York's representative earlier this year.