The United States Department of Education has once again tried to lean on New York and other states where the opt out movement has made a dent in participation rates for the Big Standardized Test.
Newsday reports that the state has received and replied to a letter similar to the one that went out in October, suggesting that they sure could hold up some Title I funds if the state doesn't get its participation rate above 95%. Depending on the reports you read, NY's participation rate in last year's BS Testing was in the neighborhood of 80%.
Newsday reports that the USED says it will take "appropriate" action, and that such action could involve withholding funds, threatening to withhold funds, or talking about threatening to consider withholding funds. So take that, New York.
Newsday also reports that USED offers advice on how to coerce participation rates; it is typical of the department that all suggestions involve threats of some sort of punishment, from withholding aid to counting all non-participating students as non-proficient (because the test data is really really important, but it's okay to completely pollute the data pool with made-up scores).
[Update: Since I originally wrote this piece, somebody found me a copy of the actual letter. Read for yourself-- it's as bad as Newsday reports.]
In this context, High Education Commissioner Elia's actions to improve test participation actually look pretty canny. They are kind of ridiculous and seem unlikely to convince anybody of anything. But they do mean that when New York participation rates some in way below 95% next year, she can turn to Acting Pretend Education Secretary John King, shrug her shoulders, and say, "What do you want? We totally tried to get rates up."
At that point the USED will have to decide if it has the balls to cut New York's funding, a level of ballsiness that has not previously been displayed, ever. John King couldn't face the parents of New York when he worked there, and he couldn't face members of Congress in DC when he wanted to work there. Is he willing to stand up to all those folks and not back down when he's cutting a billion dollars from NY's budget?
This seems particularly improbable in the face of the new ESSA, which specifically recognizes the rights of parents to opt out of BS Testing, and gives states the right to decide what the punishment for non-compliance will be. Check out this handy FairTest guide "Why You Can Boycott Standardized Tests Without Fear of Federal Penalties to Your School" for more details.
Meanwhile, New York has a moratorium on counting BS Tests for student or teacher evaluation, making the tests a true waste of everybody's time and sharply reducing the possibility that the tests will measure anything at all other than the likelihood that bored students involved in pointless tasks will amuse themselves by playing ACDC on a standardized test.
The really big question here is-- why is the federal government doing this? Seriously? Why does the federal government have such a burning desire to have all students take the BS Tests? What use does the federal government have for the data generated by the tests? What policy decisions are going to be informed by test results? What part of the public good is threatened by children who don't take the test? If few US students take their local BS Test, so what? What bad thing happens because they don't?
The most cynical part of me says that none of those questions matter, that the feds promised test manufacturers a good, solid hold on a huge testing market, and they are doing their best to live up to the bargain they made. "Where are my customers," bark Pearson et al.
"I'm sorry, sir." says Acting Pretend Secretary King. "I'll get back out there and rattle my sabres some more." Too bad for him. I'm pretty sure the parents of the Opt Out movement don't scare that easily.