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Unwaivering Decision

October 19, 2010

Scores of parents and advocacy groups from across New York state converged on the State Capital yesterday in a zero hour attempt to persuade the Board of Regents to vote “no” on the adoption of an amendment to NYSED regulation CR-100.2(ee) which would allow local school districts to waive the provision of academic intervention services (AIS) for certain students that do not currently meet grade standards in math or ELA.

Under rules adopted in 2000, students that score Level 1 or 2 on state exams are entitled to receive AIS. However, as a result of the recent test score recalibration, the amendment will allow districts the sole discretion to exempt students from these services if they would have passed under last year’s deflated standards, but failed under this year’s more rigorous standards (the high Level 2s). In NYC that population represents more than 125,000 children; statewide, the number of students affected is more than 300,000.

The reasoning behind such a waiver is based on the notion of serving the greater good: Since the new scores were not released until after districts had received their budgets, the increase in students needing AIS would severely impact already reduced budgets, particularly in smaller upstate districts. This reasoning is sympathetic to the needs of districts but not to the needs of struggling students who will not get the help they need to reach their grade level.

During a press conference on the steps of the New York State Education Department (NYSED), while applauding the state’s effort to “raise the bar” and recognizing the current fiscal challenges in NY, speakers questioned the logic of raising the bar without providing students with the supports to meet them. They told of the immediate and impending impacts of this waiver on their children, who will now not be guaranteed the tutoring they need so that they can raise their performance and pass the test next year.

Inside SED, security had been heightened; an early morning local radio spot foretold of our coming. However, parents sat patiently and listened carefully as the Regents put forth thoughtful questions to Deputy Commissioner John King about everything from enrollment challenges to JITs to SIGs to enforceability, and of course testing. Finally, it was time (37 minutes late) for the vote. In the end public will was defeated by greater good and the waiver granted. For the hundreds of thousands of children still waiting to achieve greatness, this is not at all good.

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