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U.S. Department of Education denies NY request to skip tests

The U.S. Department of Education has denied a request from the New York State Education Department to forego state assessments this year, but they are offering some flexibility in the administration of the tests.

Citing the impact of COVID-19 on education, New York was one of several states that requested permission from the U.S. Department of Education to exempt students from this year’s testing requirements for grades 3 through 8.

In a letter to chief state school officers, Acting Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum said the exams must take place. But, he said, test scores will not be tied to school performance, and accommodations should be made for remote learners.

The assessment data will be used as a source of information for parents and educators to target resources and support, rather than for accountability purposes this year.

“To be successful once schools have reopened, we need to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need,” Rosenblum wrote.

“The Department of Education is committed to supporting all states in assessing student learning during the pandemic to help target resources and support to the students with the greatest needs,” he wrote. “We also recognize that at a time when everything in our education system is different, there need to be different ways that states can administer state tests like moving them to the fall so that precious in-person learning time this year can be spent on instruction. Balancing these priorities is the best approach.”

Flexibility that’s available to states includes extending the testing window and moving assessments to the summer or fall; giving the assessment remotely, where feasible; and shortening the state assessment to make testing more feasible to implement and prioritize in-person learning time.

In addition to encouraging flexibility around the assessments, the Department of Education is also allowing states to request a waiver for the Every Student Succeeds Act’s accountability and school identification requirements.

The state Education Department received notification Monday evening that its federal counterpart would not grant a blanket waiver for state assessments.

“While we are disappointed by this decision, we are examining all possible options. 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 the results solely will be used as a measure of student learning,” department spokesperson Emily DeSantis said in a statement.

She said, given the circumstances, SED would be proposing a series of regulatory amendments at the March Board of Regents meeting so that Regents examinations would not be required to meet graduation requirements, and to cancel any Regents exam that is not required by the U.S. Department of Education.

“We continue to have discussions with USDE regarding this matter to find a path forward that is best for the health and safety of all New York’s children,” she said.

New York State United Teachers argued against the decision to mandate the tests.

“In a year that has been anything but standard, mandating that students take standardized tests just doesn’t make sense. We 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 President Andy Pallotta said in a statement.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York’s students weren’t required to take state assessments during the 2019-20 school year, and state Education Department officials had asked the U.S. Department of Education to approve the latest waiver requests that would allow the state to forego testing students for this academic year.

The waiver requests addressed the unique circumstances caused by the ongoing pandemic that have resulted in many students receiving some or all of their instruction remotely.

The first request asked for the waiver of state testing requirements at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The request also included exempting the administration of required U.S. Department of Education end-of-course exams for certain grades, including Regents exams in English language arts, math and science.

The second waiver request sought to eliminate the requirement to assign a Level 1 to 4 to each accountability subgroup for each indicator for which a school or district is accountable or identify schools for improvement in fall 2021 based on 2020-21 school year results.

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