The following letter to the editor by Vice President Catalina Fortino appeared in the Times Union Wednesday, August 10, 2016.
King's test ideology a royal failure
By Catalina Fortino
To borrow from the great Yogi Berra, it's déja vu all over again.
Just when some in the Capital Region were beginning to believe state and federal policy changes were creating an environment that would win back the trust of parents and educators on state testing, U.S. Education Secretary John King is pulling a fast one.
The same John King who often ignored parents, teachers and other education stakeholders when making policy in Albany — deciding he knew better than parents, or anyone else, what students need — is now doing an end run around Congress and trying to cement his failed test-and-punish ideology into federal education policy. He must be stopped.
At issue is a multi-sided and potentially explosive federal regulation that appears to be aimed directly at the powerful, parent-led opt-out movement in New York.
King's draft regulations dictate to states what should happen if student participation on standardized tests falls below 95 percent. In a worst-case scenario, scores of excellent schools in Albany County, for example, could wind up facing punitive sanctions — including being falsely labeled as 'priority schools' — because parents exercise their right to choose to have their children opt out of the annual state tests.
Here's how this drama is unfolding: The Every Student Succeeds Act, signed by President Barack Obama last December, is clear. It says "states will factor (the 95 percent participation requirement) into their statewide accountability systems."
The bipartisan legislation, however, rejected the prescriptive and punitive No Child Left Behind law and, instead, gave states new flexibility to design their own testing, evaluation and accountability systems to meet their own local needs. In essence, local control prevailed.
King, however, is now ignoring the will of Congress. He is using his rule-making authority to push a regulatory requirement that states must have 95 percent test participation in sub-groups as small as 30 students.
As a result, a high-performing elementary school in North Colonie or Vorheesville could face punitive sanctions if two students out of 30 in a sub-group opt out of state tests.
These potentially dire consequences would do little to bring equity and excellence to all our schools.
We are hopeful that reason will ultimately prevail and King's draft regulation will be quashed. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., chair of the U.S. Senate committee that authored ESSA, has been an outspoken proponent of trusting states and providing them with necessary flexibility, without interference from Washington.
NYSUT has made absolutely clear its fierce opposition to King's misinterpretation of the law. We will not rest until New York has in place an accountability system that is fair; supports continuous improvement for all schools and all learners; and which respects the right of parents to make decisions in the best interests of their children — including whether they should, or should not, take state tests.
But, if King succeeds, consider yourself warned. The lid may once again blow on the misuse of state testing.
Catalina Fortino, a vice president of New York State United Teachers, was a member of the state's Common Core Task Force and a member of the State Education Department's ESSA think tank.