NYSED Commissioner: ‘We need to have high standards’

Mar 30, 2016

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia insists the state needs high standards for students. Elia is touring some Western New York schools today meeting with parents and teachers to explain changes to assessments.

New York State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia toured the Allendale Elementary School in West Seneca Central School District. West Seneca had one of the highest opt out rates last year.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Elia is touring some school districts that had high opt out numbers last year.  The education leader visited the Allendale Elementary School in West Seneca Central School District Wednesday morning. West Seneca had one of the highest opt out rates in the state last year.

Elia met with school district administrators, teachers and parents to tell them some changes to the state assessments have been made for this year's testing.

State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia talks with parents and teachers at Allendale Elementary in West Seneca.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"Here’s what we’ve done. We’ve shorten every assessment in grades three through eight, English Language Arts and Mathematics. We have said if a student is productively working they should be able to take the test and continue it," explained Elia.

"This is not a test of speed. It is a test of comprehension.  We have teachers in New York State reviewing every single question on the assessment. There are over 20 teachers looking at every questions and we have to make sure our teachers are a part of this. Our teachers did not feel involved in the assessments that had been given over the last several years and we are changing that whole dynamic, so teachers are much more involved. We’re returning the data back to the schools much earlier. We moved it up almost a month last year. It’ll be back to the schools somewhere between June 15 and June 30 of this year, which is even earlier than last time."

Elia said the changes reflect what they’ve heard across the state from parents, teachers and administrations.

“It’s not done. We have work to do. We did not create the issues in New York State overnight and we aren’t going to get out of them overnight, and if we do it too quickly, you will have the same issues that you had when it was done too quickly before," Elia said.  

The education commissioner said they are consistently working to support teachers to provide student success.  Elia also emphasized the tests have been unhooked from teacher evaluations.  

Students at Allendale Elementary School in West Seneca.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

"I think the reasonable thing to do is unplug the assessments from the evaluations for teachers and principals," Elia replied.

The state ELA tests for 3rd through 8th grade begin next Tuesday.  But despite Elia's effort, some West Seneca parents, who attended her meeting said they will still opt out their child.

Molly Dana has two children in West Seneca schools, a nine and 12-year old. She has allowed them to opt out in the past and plans to do it again this school year. “I just think that it’s extremely important that the commissioner hears form parents. I think it was pretty important to make sure we made a statement," said Dana.

Molly Dana, in first seat, is a West Seneca parent, who will have her children opt out.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Dana told reporters Elia’s visit and remarks did not change her mind on opting her children out of the assessments. “No. That’s my biggest problem, are the tests themselves. They’re not diagnostic. If you could get your hands on a student’s report, it tells you absolutely nothing about their strengths or their weaknesses, so that is the major concern we have with this test and punish system," responded Dana.

Dana tells WBFO News she believes more parents might decided to opt out this season. "I think we will have higher numbers," said Dana. 

Last year 71-percent of West Seneca school students opted out of state testing.

West Seneca Superintendent Mark Crawford said he believes the State Education Department and Board of Regents is on the right path. "I do," replied Crawford. Crawford said he won't encourage or discourage parents from opting out. I haven't heard as much upset. We have some parents that are still very concerned, as you've heard," said Crawford.