The first was on NPR with Karen DeWitt:
“Superintendents have asked me, ‘Is it the law?’ ‘Exactly what does this mean for us?’ ‘What are the ramifications of (a high opt-out rate) in terms of the federal law?’,” Elia said. “So it would seem to me the logical thing for me to do as the commissioner in the state is to find out the answers to those questions, and tell my colleagues that. That’s what I said.
“This is not a threat — I’m just trying to get information out there so people understand it,” she said.
Elia discussed the “toolbox” SED is assembling to address a range of issues concerning the tests.
“Really, the idea of the toolbox for leaders in the state came from a request from a number of superintendents,” Elia said. “I think it’s really looking at what we can do to communicate better. I think the work that’s been done in New York, much of it is very good, but there are areas where we haven’t been on top of things like I think we could have been — and this is common across the country.
“Parents have a right to have their child test or not,” she continued. ” … But I think we haven’t done enough communication so that parents — if they understand it and they still want their child to opt out, that certainly is their right — but I think a lot of parents feel like the tests had problems with them, from their perspective.”
Elia then proceeded to list a number of the reasons why a parent might want their child to opt out — and seemed to agree with at least one of them.
“I’ve had teachers tell me the tests are too long. I’ve had them say they don’t think they’re matched to the standards. We’ve done a lot of work in matching and looking to see that that’s done,” she said. “But I would tell you, I think that they are long.”
Next was Capital Tonight:
During a CapTon interview last night, Elia said there’s definitely an ethical “line” teachers should not cross when it comes to the third-through-eighth-grade English and math exams.
The commissioner said educators should not use the “pulpit” provided by their positions to reach out to parents and encourage them to opt out, but should feel free to answer questions about their personal position on the issue when asked – especially if those questions are posed outside the classroom.
“What I’m concerned about is taking a position and influencing children and families simply because they know their telephone number or someone might come in,” Elia said.
Elia acknowledged that it is perfectly legal for parents to decide not to have their children sit for state tests, but also said she believes parents need to be educated about the importance of those tests as a diagnostic and “assessment” tool.
She said she isn’t threatening anyone with sanctions, but is reaching out to superintendents to provide them with information to give to parents on this issue. At the moment, Elia confirmed, no districts will be losing federal funding as a result of unusually high opt-out rates.
These interviews came on the same day that she backed up the right for parents to opt their children out of vaccinations for religious reasons.
She's still hammering home the idea that parents who are opting their kids out just don't know any better but by golly, she's going to educate them by communicating with them (“Parents have a right to have their child test or not…But I think we haven’t done enough communication so that parents..."; she believes parents need to be educated about the importance of those tests as a diagnostic and “assessment” tool.)
The State of Politics blog described Elia's media tour yesterday as Elia's "softening" her stance on the Opt Out movement, but I didn't hear much different from her yesterday on opt out at all.
She did acknowledge the tests are too long, so there's one minor concession from her, though she has always said the state was going to review the tests for quality, so presumably that length critique comes under that purview.
But other than the critique about the length of the tests, I didn't hear much that was new.
She has acknowledged parents have the right to opt their children out of the state tests (including parents who are also teachers), so that isn't new.
She's claimed before that her NYSED "toolbox" project isn't going to be a way for the state to coerce parents to have their children sit for the tests, so that isn't new either.
Quite frankly, I heard more that was new in her statement supporting the parent's right to opt her child out of the MMR vaccines for religious reasons than I did in her media tour yesterday.
It seems that Elia's trying to walk back the mess she made by calling parents who opt their children out of state tests "unreasonable" and teachers who support or encourage opt out "unethical," but that kind of language isn't easily erased from the minds of those who were targeted with it and while news reporters might have heard her "softening" her stance against opt out in yesterday's media tour, I heard much of the same old, same old message offered with less strident language.
She's still claiming parents who opt their children out need to be educated about the swellness of the tests.
She's still saying the "toolbox" will be a way for districts to educate these parents.
The threat is still implicit in the "It's the law..." remarks that districts that don't get parents to comply are going to have some legal trouble from the state (e.g., "at the moment" no districts will lose funding as a result of high opt out rates...)
Meet the new MaryEllen Elia message, same as the old MaryEllen Elia message, just with slightly less judgmental language.