New York school district may consider boycotting state tests unless funding changes are made

The school district may consider breaking the law and boycotting the state's standardized tests in April in opposition to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's education policies.

The Kenmore-Tonawanda Board of Education on Tuesday discussed a proposal to "seriously consider not administering" the mandatory math and English tests to students in grades 3 through 8 unless school funding changes are made.

The district also may consider taking student performance on the Common Core-aligned tests out of the equation for teacher evaluations in the 7,000-student district unless lawmakers change the statewide evaluation formula and reject Cuomo's proposal to make the tests count even more.

The measure had support from the nearly 200 people who filled the meeting room Tuesday, but the board put off voting on it to gather more input.

Board members said the public should know the consequences, including the potential loss of state aid and need for a tax increase, such a boycott might bring. They said lawyers also have advised that teachers who refuse to administer assessments risk losing their certifications.

Supporters said they hoped the proposal would inspire other districts to take similar stands.

"The concerns about sanctions, the concerns about hurting kids, we've already crossed that bridge," said Peter Stuhlmiller, president of the Kenmore Teachers Association. "Pushing back is the right thing to do."

Ken-Ton Superintendent Dawn Mirand said she opposed the idea because of potential sanctions, but the state Department of Education has not said what would happen if a district refused to administer the tests.

"The state assessments and their use in Annual Professional Performance Reviews are required by law, and a local board of education is obligated to comply with the law," the Department of Education said in an email.

Board President Bob Dana said he didn't bring the proposal to break the law.

"My goal is an honest one," he said, "to send a message to Albany that school districts around the state have had it."

The state uses the annual tests to measure the performance of teachers and schools throughout its nearly 700 districts, and scores are a factor in student placement decisions.

Scores on the tests plunged two years ago when New York rewrote them to align with the more challenging Common Core learning standards adopted by most states in an effort to boost academic rigor. At the same time, New York began requiring school districts to use student performance on the assessments to rate teachers and said two consecutive bad ratings could be grounds for firing.

Last year, dissatisfaction with Common Core and the tests led thousands of New York parents to opt out of the exams.

Cuomo's proposal to give the tests even more weight in teacher evaluations is among several conditions he has set for an increase in state aid in his proposed budget for the next fiscal year.

"The governor is fighting to reform a system that spends more money per student than any other state in the nation while condemning hundreds of thousands of children to failing schools over the last decade," Cuomo spokesman Richard Azzopardi said.

Opponents have accused the governor of "holding hostage" state aid information to pressure the Legislature to pass his measures.