The federal Department of Education is requiring states to still administer standardized tests this year, but allowing states flexibility to shorten exams, give them remotely and schedule over the summer or early fall.
The decision, outlined in a letter sent to state education leaders Monday night, effectively dashed hopes that the state’s request to forego all federally-mandated exams this year would be granted. Instead, teachers and students now have to plan for the dreaded 3-8 tests in math and English, even as they await the details of what those tests will look like.
State officials in a statement Tuesday did explicitly say Regents exams will not be used as a graduation requirement this school year, promising to seek approval from the Board of Regents next month to suspend that longstanding requirement – which was suspended last spring as well.
“The (state Education) Department will propose a series of regulatory amendments at the March Board of Regents meeting, so Regents exams will not be required to meet graduation requirements and to cancel any Regents exam that is not required by the U.S. (Department of Education),” SED spokesperson Emily DeSantis said in a statement Tuesday.
While the federal government said it planned to offer states flexibility to administer shortened tests or schedule them over the summer or early next school year, the letter to state leaders emphasized the importance of measuring the academic impacts of the pandemic in a comprehensive way.
“It is urgent to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning,” Ian Rosenblum, acting as an assistant education secretary, wrote in the letter to states.
The federal government did say it would waive the accountability designations tied to student testing and urged states and districts to take steps to minimize the stakes of the test like disconnecting it from student grades or grade promotion decisions.
States are required to administer standardized statewide tests for students in grades 3-8 in English and math, as well as end-of-course high school exams for certain grades in English, math and science, under federal education law. Some of the state’s high school Regents exams cover the federal requirements, while others are solely New York tests.
Many educators have called for the tests to be cancelled – like they were last year – highlighting the complicated mix of learning models this year, the added stress tests would create and the difficulty of safely administering standardized tests during an ongoing pandemic.
New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta in a statement Tuesday “strongly rebuked” the federal government’s decision.
“In a year that has been anything but standard, mandating that students take standardized tests just doesn’t make sense,” he said.
State officials also expressed disappointment in the decision and said they were exploring different options for administering federally-required tests, not offering any specific answers to what that would look like for students and educators.
“While we are disappointed by this decision, we are examining all possible options,” DeSantis said in the statement Tuesday.
But some educators, especially administrators, have said there is value in using a standardized assessment to gauge where students stand with their academics and where educators should focus efforts to close gaps.
“Having that data point as a starting point when we come back (in the fall) might prove to be critically important, it might take some of the guesswork away for teachers on where their class and kids are starting from,” Schenectady interim Superintendent Aaron Bochniak said Tuesday.