ALBANY — The U.S. Department of Education said it wants states to administer standardized tests to students, and New York is seeking ways to get out of doing that.
In a Feb. 22 letter to state school officials, acting Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum wrote that the Biden administration will not consider “blanket waivers of assessments” this year. President Joe Biden previously said he wants to see students return to classrooms so a comprehensive assessment can be done to quantify the pandemic’s effects on education.
“We must … specifically be prepared to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, including by using student learning data to enable states, school districts, and schools to target resources and supports to the students with the greatest needs,” Rosenblum stated.
Standardized testing, including state Regent exams, have been on hold since last March. Schools across the state have slowly progressed since going fully remote at the end of the previous school year. After a mandate from Gov. Andrew Cuomo, school districts presented plans to safely reopen classrooms just prior to the start of the current academic year. In those plans, districts provided a hybrid solution for parents still wary of sending their children back to school.
Federal law requires each state to facilitate standardized tests in reading, math and other subjects between third and eighth grades, and once again in high school. Results from those exams trickle down to assessing districts and individual teaching to apply improvement measures.
Classrooms in the 2020-21 academic year have been all but standard, argues educators.
“In a year that has been anything but standard, mandating that students take standardized tests just doesn’t make sense,” shared New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta in an emailed statement on Tuesday, Feb. 23. “As the educators in the classroom, we have always known that standardized tests are not the best way to measure a child’s development, and they are especially unreliable right now. We need to ensure that our students who have been hit hardest during the pandemic receive the support they need. Sizing up students with inequitable and stressful exams is not the solution.”
NYSUT previously encouraged the state to request a federal waiver of grades 3–8 and high school testing requirements. Thousands of comments were submitted to the state by educators demanding a waiver of testing requirements this year.
The federal mandate was issued less than two weeks after the New York State Education Department submitted two waiver requests to Washington. In her letter, New York State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa cited safety as her first concern. After last week’s statement, she expressed her disappointment.
“While we are disappointed by this decision, we are examining all possible options,” Rosa shared in a statement. “Further, USDE made the right call in affirming that no child should be made to come to school to take a state assessment. In addition, USDE agreed to uncouple state assessments from ESSA accountability requirements so that results solely will be used as a measure of student learning.”
Rosa added that NYSED will propose a series of regulatory amendments at the March Board of Regents meeting so Regents Exams would not be required to meet graduation requirements and to cancel any Regents Exam that is not required by USDE to be held.
The USDE did show a willingness to be flexible. Within the statement was an outline to state leaders explaining feasible exceptions, including requesting waivers. In the same process the state has already initiated, states have been invited to request waivers. If granted, states won’t not be required to implement and report the results of its accountability system, including calculating progress toward long-term goals and measurements of interim progress or indicators. They’d still be required to follow through with improvements, but that would be based upon previous exam results.
Rosa’s request for waivers originally drew praise from NYSUT before news of the federal mandate. With the latest news, the teacher’s union balked at standardized exams.
“We have grave concerns that standardized tests at any level can be administered in any sort of equitable way,” NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango said. “Students deserve better. Regardless of what flexibility the federal government provides, no student should be forced to come to school in person just to take a test.”