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NYS Education Commissioner Disagrees With Federal Attempt to Punish Opt Out Schools


The state’s education commissioner , Mary Ellen Elia says she’s fighting a proposal by her predecessor, now the federal education secretary, John King,  to punish schools with a high opt out rate from the standardized tests.

Commissioner Elia says she and the Board of Regents have made a number of changes in her first year on the job to fix the third through eighth tests, including signing on with a new testing company that will let teachers write more of the questions, shortening the exams, and giving kids more time to complete them. Elia, in an interview with public radio and television,  says she believes in some form of accountability but respects parents’ rights to opt their children out of the tests.  She says federal education secretary John Kings plan to financially sanction schools where more than 5% of kids skip the tests is “unacceptable”.

“Parents should make a decision to have their kids take it, but it’s their decision,” said Elia. “Children should not be penalized for that decision.”

Twenty-two percent of students statewide boycotted the tests this year.  A vice president for the teacher’s union said in an op ed piece that King’s threats could “blow the lid off” the uneasy calm that’s settled over the testing issue during the past year.  King was New York’s education commissioner until mid 2015.  He was a controversial figure, who  fast tracked the Common Core standards.  Elia says she’s taking a more measured approach.


Scott Willis covers politics, local government, transportation, and arts and culture for WAER. He came to Syracuse from Detroit in 2001, where he began his career in radio as an intern and freelance reporter. Scott is honored and privileged to bring the day’s news and in-depth feature reporting to WAER’s dedicated and generous listeners. You can find him on twitter @swillisWAER and email him at