Friday, March 25, 2016

A Resolution to Promote Equity

Correcting Criterion Schools Admissions Policy that Discriminates Against Students Refusing the ELA/Math Standardized Tests

Submitted by Barbara A. Seals Nevergold, PhD, Member at Large, Sharon Belton-Cottman, Ferry District, Dr. Theresa Harris-Tigg, East District

March 24, 2016

Whereas, for months beginning in November up to the present, most recently at the March 9th Board meeting, Dr. Nevergold  has raised questions and concerns about the District’s treatment of the criterion-schools’ applications of students who opted out of the 2015 ELA/Math standardized tests;

Whereas, a combined score on these tests is part of the matrix of the criteria to determine admission to Olmsted, City Honors and DaVinci.  The score accounts for 1-9 points and contributes to the 29-31 overall points that can be awarded to determine student ranking for admissions.  However, a student who refused the ELA/Math tests automatically received a score of zero out of the possible 1-9 points;

Whereas, requests have been made for clarification of the rationale that the District employs to determine why District students do not receive the same accommodation given to applicants from private schools who do not take the State ELA or Math tests.  These students are allowed to submit a “comparable” test score that is used as a substitute for the ELA/Math criterion.  To date there has been no satisfactory response;

Whereas, District staff have produced a March 15, 2015 letter, from Interim Superintendent Donald Ogilvie (attached), to support the decision not to revisit the District’s position on maintaining the assigned score of zero for these students.  The letter “notified” parents that their decision to refuse the standardized tests would have an impact on their child’s admission’s application to City Honors, Olmsted and DaVinci.  The letter cautioned that “the lack of an assigned value, while not disqualifying the student, will impact the students’ admission’s profile.” Further the letter stated that the same criteria would be applied to students from schools, presumably outside of the District, who had no “similar assessment data”;

Whereas, there are a number of problems with this letter; first, the letter is vague as it does not spell out the alternative assessment data that students outside the District could submit in place of the ELA/Math.  Second, it would appear that such a letter signals the intent to apply the same standards to out of District students as well as in District students when in reality different standards were applied to some out of District students.  And third, just because the District sent this letter to parents to “notify” them of the impact of not taking the ELA/Math tests; it doesn’t absolve the District of its obligation to provide an equitable process that treats all children fairly;

Whereas, following the release of the Governor’s Common Core Task Force, Dr. Nevergold sent another email to the Superintendent on December 15th 2015 requesting a review of the District’s criterion-schools admissions criteria policy, inclusive of the ELA/Math standardized tests score.  This was one day after the District completed the admissions process but before notification to the applicants.

 In part, the email stated:

Consistent with the recommendations of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Common Core Task Force, released on December 10th, the New York State Regents voted, on December 14th, to accept among others Recommendation 21 that proposes:  Until the new system is fully phased in, the results from assessments aligned to the current Common Core Standards, as well as the updated standards, shall only be advisory and not be used to evaluate the performance of individual teachers or students.  More broadly stated the decision is to place a moratorium on the use of the results of these tests until 2019-2020 pending their revision.  That includes the tests given during the 2012-13, 2013-14 and 2014-15 school years.

As you also know, one of the recommendations of Dr. Orfield regarding the criteria used to determine student admission to the criterion schools was “eliminating the New York state tests because the standards have been changed so drastically and their use is too new to support valid predictions…” (The Report: p 81)

I believe that the current reversal by the Regents regarding these tests warrants a revisit by the District of this recommendation and by way of this communication I am requesting that the District undertake this review.  Thank you.  I look forward to your response.”

This request was ignored as have subsequent requests made since January 2016.

Whereas, State Education Law, Part AA, Subpart C of Chapter 56 of the Laws of 2014, subdivision (47) of Education Law 305, directs the Commissioner to provide that no school district shall make any student promotion or placement decisions based solely or primarily on student performance on the State administered standardized English language arts and mathematics assessments for grades three through eight.  The statue does not allow a school district to consider student performance on such State assessments in making placement decisions, but only as one of multiple measures and only if such assessments do not constitute the major factor in such determinations.”;

Whereas, a score of zero for students who opted out of the ELA/Math standardized tests effectively nullifies a student’s application as it makes consideration for admission a meaningless exercise.  And contrary to State Education Law, the substitution of a zero in the absence of the ELA/Math test score constitutes making this criterion a major factor in the admissions determination.  In the case of the City Honors’ criteria, the zero accounts for 29% of the potential score for ranking of a grade 5-9 applicant.  Even more astounding, a child applying for admissions to Olmsted in grades 5 -9, lost 43% of the potential score;

Whereas, a number of complaints have been received from parents who are requesting a review of the District’s policy and procedure that determined the assignment of a zero for the ELA/Math criteria in the applications of children, who opted out of the 2015 standardized test based on the decision of their parents;

Whereas, the right of a parent to make the decision to refuse the tests has been confirmed by the Commissioner of the New York State Education Department and the Governor of the State of New York, who described the tests as meaningless;

Whereas, The District entered into a consent agreement with the U.S. Department of Education, New York Office of Civil Rights (OCR) (case #02-14-1077) in response to a complaint filed against the Buffalo Public Schools.  The complainant alleged that the District discriminated on the basis of race and national origin by using admissions criteria that disproportionately excluded non-white students from enrollment in the District’s “criteria-based” schools; 

Therefore, the District should practice vigilance and diligence in addressing policies and/or procedures that have the potential to create new avenues that set up discriminatory barriers to admissions to the criterion-schools;

Therefore,  the Board directs the staff to immediately provide data regarding the number of students impacted by the current policy; and conduct a review of the policy of assigning a zero to the admissions profile of applicants to criterion-schools who do not have an ELA/Math score because they opted out of the 2015 standardized tests; 

Further, that the staff provide a recommended solution (s) to this issue to the Board at its next scheduled meeting on April 13, 2016.

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