From the Morning Memo:

As federal education officials make vague noises about financial sanctions as as result of the unprecedentedly high opt-out rates New York is seeing during this week’s standardized English tests, Regents Chancellor Merryl Tisch delivered this message: Don’t even think about it.

“I would urge the federal government not to come and threaten the students in New York state for a variety of reasons,” Tisch said during a CapTon interview last night.

“Number one: I don’t believe that taking money away from our most vulnerable schools, which is where Title I is targeted, would be very helpful to getting the kinds of outcomes we want for those targeted populations.”

“I don’t believe in threatening people and I don’t think that’s very effective.”

“On a much more basic note,” the chancellor continued, “over the last several days, the federal government has started to signal that as part of reauthorizing the Elementary, Middle and Secondary Act, they are going to move away from using test scores as part of their evaluation system.”

“It would be really disingenuous for the federal government to come into New York state, which has met its obligations under Race to the Top, and had testing as part of evaluation, and then threaten to remove money that this state uses for its most vulnerable populations because we couldn’t get to yes while they are moving away from that obligation altogether.”

A US Department of Education spokeswoman told The Buffalo News that the department has not had to withhold money “yet” over the requirement that schools and districts have 95 percent test compliance or lose federal Title I funding because that threshold has not yet been reached.

However, there were reports that some districts across New York had as many as 70 percent of students opt out for Day One of the ELA exams this week. And the federal government says it has “made clear” that states are expected to “consider” sanctions when the threshold is not met.

Federal aid is a small fraction of the public funding school districts receive, most of which comes from the state. But many of New York’s high-needs districts are already stretched thin, and cannot afford to lose even a small amount of money.

The opt-out movement was started by parents concerned about over-testing of their kids, and the viability of the tests themselves.

But the cause was kicked up a notch this year when it was embraced by the statewide teachers union, NYSUT, in an effort to undermine the teacher evaluation system after a bitter budget battle in which the governor pushed – and the Legislature approved – changes the union opposed.

An estimated 100,000 students have opted out of this year’s tests so far, compared to some 60,000 in 2014. Despite this dramatic increase, the state Education Department still plans on using this year’s tests as a basis for school and teacher evaluations, Gannett reports.

Tisch said the Board of Regents will “absolutely” take into account the opt out movement while trying to come up changes to the teacher evaluation system within the parameters of the legislation agreed to by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and legislative leaders.

“At the end of the day, no one is going to be 100 percent satisfied with where this lands,” Tisch warned.

“…The Constitution of New York state gave us this authority, and not to use it to help students and parents and teachers would be walking away from what I think is our constitutional obligation to give our best judgement in crafting regulations around complicated policy.”

“…Absolutely we will not ignore the voices of parent across this state; that is an absolute,” Tisch continued. “Absolutely, we will not ignore what is already in statute through the budget process in the state of New York.”

“How we get there, and how we managed to bring these disparate voices together during a very complicated public debate I think is going to be challenging, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it.”

Tisch said she doesn’t believe – either as a parent or a chancellor – in “punitive measures,” but rather in setting standards and expectations.

She did express concern, however, about the timeline set out for coming up with a new evaluation system. (It’s due by June 30). And she also said she’s “openly worried” about the ability of close to 700 districts to put together plans under the new rules and submit them to SED for approval by November.