State Education Department seeks federal waiver on statewide 3-8 tests

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State education officials are asking for a federal waiver to bypass annual statewide math and English language arts exams administered in the spring, highlighting the yearlong learning disruptions caused by the pandemic.

State officials cited health and safety concerns as well as the disparate models of instruction employed across the state this year as they argued in a draft letter to federal officials that the tests could not be fairly administered this spring.

“NYSED is requesting this waiver because we have determined that spring 2021 state assessments cannot be safely, equitably and fairly administered to all students across the state given how severely  the pandemic has impacted the delivery of instruction to students and adversely affected their social and emotional well-being,” state officials wrote in the letter to the federal Department of Education.

The annual state tests, which help determine school accountability classifications and serve as an important data point for educators, are part of federal education requirements, so state officials will need federal approval to scrap the tests this year. The waivers seek an exemption from federal testing requirements at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

The state Education Department on Monday posted the waiver requests to its website, soliciting public input through Feb. 5.

The waiver request, which would also enable the state to suspend some high school level testing that meets federal requirements,  highlighted the wide-ranging formats that students have learned in this school year and the racial disparities in the options and choices of families. The request also argued by foregoing the test educators would have more time to support students needs, minimize additional anxiety in students and focus on core learning standards.

“Allowing the time ordinarily needed for administering assessments to be used for instruction will ensure that students are receiving the maximum amount of learning possible and help to minimize gaps in learning that have resulted from the disruptions caused by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” according to the draft waive request.

The request indicates state officials plan to administer in person its English Language Proficiency assessment, which allows English Language Learners to progress and eventually exit special language programs, but not requiring participation for those who can’t attend in person. The state requested flexibility to work with local school districts to maximize participation on the language assessment.  

The federal waiver request applies specifically to federally-mandated assessments – like the math and ELA tests – but a similar logic could apply to the state’s Regents exams, which serve as graduation requirements for students. The waiver request covers some high school level Regents exams that satisfy federal testing requirements for secondary students, but the Board of Regents control the state’s graduation requirements, including the use of exit exams, and what will happen with the full slate of those tests.

The Board of Regents last spring suspended the Regents tests as a graduation requirement and allowed for students to meet the requirement by passing the Regents-level course. Interim Education Commissioner Betty Rosa recently said state officials had yet to make a decision on the Regents exam but said officials would make one soon. 

Many teachers, students and administrators have called for the state to cancel annual tests – both the federally-required ones and the Regents-imposed exams – in light of the unprecedented school year. 

New York State United Teachers, a statewide union organization, applauded the state’s effort and indicated support for also cancelling the Regents exams scheduled for the spring. 

“In a year that has been anything but standardized, it’s the right move to seek this waiver to cancel this spring’s standardized exams,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said in a statement. 

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