The needle is slowly moving to address challenges facing New York City’s neediest students, but incremental progress means that the biggest problems remain daunting, a data-packed report on the city school system shows.
The newly elected head of New York state’s education policymaking body said if she were a parent, she would likely opt her child out of the state tests — and would not say if she hopes the boycotts shrink in number this year.
Instead, Betty Rosa spoke about the need to retool the tests to rebuild trust with parents, and said that families have the right to choose what is best for their children.
“If I was a parent and I was not on the Board of Regents, I would opt out at this time,” Rosa told reporters Monday, shortly after she was elected chancellor of the Board of Regents.
Rosa’s statements underscore the striking nature of Monday’s leadership shift. Former Chancellor Merryl Tisch was a staunch defender of the exams, which grew more difficult to pass under her leadership as they incorporated the Common Core standards. Last year, frustrations about testing led to one in five eligible students not taking the tests statewide.
The statements also illustrate the somewhat precarious position Rosa now occupies as a critic of state education policy. As chancellor, she oversees the State Education Department — which administers the state tests — and whose leader, Commissioner MaryEllen Elia, has been campaigning to minimize the opt-out movement’s growth.
Rosa chose her words carefully Monday. In response to a question about whether she would like to see the number of opt-outs decrease this year, Rosa talked about restoring trust between the State Education Department and parents.
“I want us to get to a place where we comfortably take and examine the current tests and move forward in a way that parents have a sense of full trust,” Rosa said.
But as the chancellor-elect, she stopped short of telling parents they should have their children take the tests.
“My recommendation is that parents should be informed and that parents should make their own personal decisions,” Rosa said.
That was a positive sign to opt-out leaders like Lisa Rudley, a parent and founder of New York State Allies for Public Education, the group that endorsed Rosa. “Dr. Betty Rosa recognizes the rights and responsibility of parents to protect their children while the changes to these inappropriately flawed tests and standards are being discussed and planned,” she said.
Stephen Sigmund, the executive director of High Achievement New York, a coalition of organizations that advocate for learning standards like the Common Core, said he was troubled.
“It’s concerning to us that she wasn’t more definitive about that, and that she said she would opt her own children out,” he said. “But we’re hopeful that, as she said, as the tests continue to improve that her point of view will change.”
New York’s opt-out movement has been expanding its political influence in recent months as it tries to gain a lasting foothold in state politics. Its leaders distributed surveys to candidates for open Regents seats in recent months, endorsed candidates for those seats and voiced support for Rosa’s bid for the chancellorship.
“They are going to think that this is a big win for their movement,” Regent Roger Tilles said this month, of Rosa’s selection and the opt-out movement.
During the press conference, Commissioner Elia underscored the changes she has made to the state tests this year to make them more palatable for students and parents, including shortening the exams, granting students unlimited time to complete them, and involving more educators in revamping the tests.
And the new vice chancellor-elect, Regent Andrew Brown, was clear that he would like to see fewer opt-outs in the coming years.
“Hopefully we will see less, but certainly we want to continue to move in the direction where we are seeing less over time,” Brown said.