I will protect your pensions. Nothing about your pension is going to change when I am governor. - Chris Christie, "An Open Letter to the Teachers of NJ" October, 2009

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Does Opting-Out "Punish" Schools? Not As Much As Serving High-Needs Students

The opt-out scolds -- those who spend their days tut-tutting at parents who've decided to take their children out of high-stakes standardized tests -- having been warning over and over that there will be serious financial consequences for schools that do not have high test participation rates.

Could they actually be right?
BROOKLYN — The state has penalized 16 high-performing city schools — potentially costing them each up to $75,000 in grant money — because of their exam opt-out rates, DNAinfo New York has learned.
These schools were on track to win recognition from the state as “Reward Schools" — an annual honor that makes schools eligible to apply for grants — but were not included in the list because they failed to meet a 95 percent participation rate on the exams, state education officials confirmed. 
“While U.S. Department of Education [USDE] guidelines allow states to impose sanctions on districts specifically for failure to meet participation requirements [of the tests], including the withholding of state funds, New York State has not taken such action against any district or school,” State Education Department spokeswoman Jeanne Beattie said.
“However, under New York’s flexibility waiver approved by USDE in 2010, a school must meet all applicable participation rate requirements to be designated as a Reward School and therefore eligible for a grant.” [emphasis mine]
Angry Andy Cuomo had said that districts wouldn't be punished for high opt-out rates. But it looks like schools that have significant numbers of kids who don't take tests are less likely to be eligible for these grants:
The city’s Department of Education declined to comment on schools losing the Reward designation, but noted that schools were informed of the state’s criteria in a DOE FAQ, updated in March.
“Regardless of the reason (i.e., absence or refusal), if fewer than 95 percent of a school’s students or one or more of its subgroups of students (e.g., less than 95 percent of black students, students with disabilities, etc.) take the math or ELA assessments, the school is designated having failed to make “Adequate Yearly Progress” for that school year,” the FAQ noted.
“Schools that do not meet the participation rate criteria are not eligible to be considered for ‘Reward School’ status,” the FAQ continued, “which highlights schools identified as demonstrating high performance or high progress relative to other schools in the state.”       
Last year, 143 city schools were selected as Reward Schools, according to the state, but only eight of them met the eligibility requirements for the grants. [emphasis mine]
Wait -- there's only a 6 percent chance of NYC schools actually getting money, even if they are "Reward" schools?  Doesn't seem like most of these schools were going to miss out on much -- but all this raises an interesting question...

If these grants only go to "Reward" schools, what does it take to get "rewarded"?

In other words: are there any characteristics that "Reward" schools, which get a crack at additional funding, share? To answer that question, let's compare "Reward" schools in New York State with "Priority" and "Focus" schools, which have been identified this way by the NY State Education Department (NYSED):
  • Focus Districts have schools with low academic performance on the Grades 3-8 ELA and Math Tests or low graduation rates for certain groups of students, such as those who are economically disadvantaged, students with disabilities, and English language learners. The performance of these schools is not improving.
  • Focus Schools are schools within Focus Districts that have low academic performance that is not improving.
  • Priority Schools are schools with the overall lowest student academic performance on state assessments and persistently low graduation rates.
I'll bet you already know exactly where this is going (click to enlarge)...

Want to become a "Reward" school in New York State, and avoid getting designated as "Focus" or "Priority"? First thing you need to do is make sure you keep your Limited English Proficiency (LEP) rate low; no foreign language students for you. Next, make sure you have small proportions of students of color, either black or Hispanic. Then stock up on Asian and white kids.

Bad as all that is, the two columns furthest to the right make the situation even more awful. Incredibly, the schools New York State punishes have many more students proportionally who have a learning disability (SWD) than the schools the state rewards. And "Focus" and "Priority" schools are far more likely to have large proportions of students who are in economic disadvantage.

Am I the only one thinks it's insane to make special grants, even if they are small, available to schools that serve fewer students of color, fewer students with special needs, fewer students who speak a language besides English at home, and fewer students who are in economic disadvantage?

New York State already engages in all sorts of stealth inequities when it comes to funding its schools, as this report by Bruce Baker notes.* A few $75K grants are small change compared to the literally billions have that have been denied to New York's neediest school districts. Still, it's amazing that a grant program like this, which rewards schools enrolling the least needy students, exists.

Just once, I'd like the opt-out scolds to acknowledge some of this. Just once, I'd like them to point out how illogical it is for politicians to simultaneously demand that schools meet new high standards while refusing to provide the money their own laws say is necessary to properly fund education systems. Just once, I'd like them to stop worrying so much about students who opt-out of tests, and start worrying about politicians who opt-out of funding the schools that enroll the neediest students.

But that doesn't tell the story the opt-out scolds' patrons want to tell, does it?

My new favorite cartoon. via Jeff Parker.

*As always, Bruce is my advisor at Rutgers GSE. He also diid a similar analysis of New Jersey's "Priority," "Focus," and "Reward" schools back in 2012.


Leonie Haimson said...

6% of NYC reward schools were "eligible" for a grant doesn't even mean they got one. Apparently NYSED refused to tell the reporter which schools did actually get the grant. It could have been none. And yes, we've known for a while that the Reward designation is given to many schools with few high need students. What happens in NJ? Is it run differently? This is a federal designation after all.

Duke said...

Leonie, see Bruce Baker's post on NJ ESEA designations here:


I can't tell you how much this pisses me off. "Rewarding" schools like these is shameful.

NYC Educator said...

Thanks for this great column. I referenced it liberally in my response to UFT Unity's boast about how my friends and I ruined everything about it and are therefore unfit to lead.