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New federal testing plan could sap property values

February 28, 2018 03:13 AM

The years-long dispute over high-stakes proficiency testing for elementary school students could soon impact students who opt out of taking the tests, and even homeowners with no children at all, by affecting property values News10NBC has learned.

The U.S. Department of Education has told states that they must begin applying a new standard to the tests which requires schools tally the scores of students who opt out of the proficiency tests as if the students had failed them.

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“This is quite simply a bully tactic,” said Shannon Joy, an outspoken advocate who has urged that parents opt their children out of taking the tests.  

Joy is also a parent in the Fairport school district, which could see its high performing reputation pummeled if the new scoring metrics are applied. 

The proficiency tests, measuring English Language Arts (ELA) and math skills, for students in grades 3 through 8, are mandated under the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act.  Under current policy, New York State allows schools to discard the non-scores of students who decline to take the tests and simply compile their results based on the scores of students who do.  

Education observers have complained that practice could let schools artificially inflate their success rates by encouraging lower performing students to skip the tests.

The new standard seeks to preempt that possibility and could create an opposite effect, just as artificial.  

“The law requires that states score these test as if 95% of the eligible test takers took the test,” explained Stephen Sigmund, Executive Director of High Achievement New York (HANY), which analyzed the potential impact of suddenly replacing thousands of “opted out” scores with “fail” scores.

"The proficiency would drop a lot,” Sigmund said.  “So, a lot of districts would go from being either ‘above average’ or ‘high performing’ to ‘below average’ and ‘low performing.’”

The potential impact differed wildly, according to HANY’s study.  For instance, in Rochester city schools, the 3-8 tests found only 8% of students ranked proficient in ELA or math.  The district also had a relatively low 12% opt-out rate for the tests.   The analysis found that, if RCSD had to tabulate its test scores as if 95% of the students had taken the tests, it would see its percentage of “proficient” ranked students drop 1 percentage point to 7%.

Much higher scoring Fairport schools also had the region’s highest rate of students opting out, 48%, and faced a much more dramatic decline in scores under the new regimen. 46% of Fairport students scored proficient in English Language Arts and 57% scored proficient in math.   HANY concluded that if Fairport had to compile its scores under the 95% rule, its ELA and math scores would be cut in half to 25% for ELA and 29% for math.

"It's going to look like schools are failing,” declared Sherry Johnson, Executive Director of the Monroe County School Board Association, “and so you're going to get back into that whole model of:  you're punishing the schools for decisions that are made outside the education realm."

Other area school districts with high opt-out rates could see similar results with East Rochester, Greece, Hilton and Spencerport also facing the prospect of their scores being reduced by as much as half.

“The idea that the federal government can manipulate statistics and manipulate the scores of some of the best performing schools in the nation to deem them as under-performing is absolutely outrageous," Joy said.

If schools with previously sterling reputations as high quality institutions were suddenly branded with a scarlet letter of poor proficiency scores, Sigmund warned that the effect could extend far beyond the schools themselves, or even the families of children in schools, to entire communities.  

"You look at school districts for the purposes of your real estate and property values,” he said.  “If there's a notion that the schools are not as good as advertised essentially, based on test scores, you can see property values decline commensurately."

Administrators with some of the school districts likely to be impacted declined to discuss the potential effects with News10NBC saying it was too early to interpret them.

Johnson suggested more effort was needed to bring skeptical families back to taking the 3-8 proficiency tests.  

“They will need to start developing plans on how to get more kids to participate in those tests,” she said.  “It's kind of a ‘Catch-22’ because you really need to honor what parents want for their child, and see as best for their child."

After lobbying against the change, Johnson said local districts were waiting for guidance from the state on how the new regulations would be rolled out.  

Joy promised to keep resisting the tests and called the latest round of dire predictions empty.  

"They have made these threats every single year,” she said.  “And they have never followed through on any of these threats.”

Credits

Charles Molineaux

Copyright 2018 - WHEC-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

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