On Monday, January 25, the New York State Education Department (SED) published drafts of requests for federal waivers that, if approved, would allow the state of New York to forego administering state exams for the 2020-21 school year.
The current COVID-19 pandemic has led to a widespread disparity in learning opportunities for students across the state. This fact, as well as the challenges of administering testing on a large scale under COVID-19 safety protocols, has led both the New York State Board of Regents and SED leadership to believe that the best course of action would be to cancel state testing this year.
In a statement published on the SED website, Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. is quoted as saying, “Throughout the pandemic the Board’s priority has been the physical and mental health, safety, and well-being of the children and adults in our schools.” “In light of the ongoing pandemic, we have determined that the Spring 2021 state assessments cannot be safely, equitably and fairly administered to students in schools across the state and, therefore, are seeking these waivers.”
It is important to note that the State Education Department cannot, on its own, cancel state exams without first requesting permission to do so from the federal Department of Education. Federal law enacted through the Every Student Succeeds Act of 2015 (ESSA) requires all states to test students in English Language Arts and Math once per year from grades 3-8 and once during high school. For New York State to call off the standardized testing scheduled for this spring, they would first need federal waivers from ESSA assessment and accountability mandates. Most education leaders believe that federal waivers will be granted if requests are submitted.
Right now, SED has copies of the waiver requests available for view and public comment on their website. Comments on the waiver requests can be submitted up until February 5.
The decision by SED and the Board of Regents to go forward with the necessary steps to cancel the state exams is supported by many stakeholders in New York State public education.
On Tuesday, January 19, the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), called upon the state Education Department (SED) to do what it could to stop the administration of the state grades 3-8 and high school tests scheduled for this Spring.
In a letter to Interim State Education Commissioner Betty Rosa, Regents Chancellor Lester Young Jr. and the Board of Regents, the union noted that the pandemic has continued to disrupt the normal education process in the same ways it had last year when the State Education Department also requested waivers from federal ESSA mandates and canceled the state tests.
“Throughout this school year there has not been a standardized mode of instruction across the state,” the letter states. “Without standardized instructional modes there should not be a standardized test at the end of the year.”
Last month the New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) circulated a petition to compel Commissioner Rosa and the Board of Regents to request a waiver from federal ESSA requirements.
Citing widespread disparities throughout the state with the nature and quality of instruction being provided, the NYSAPE petition stated that, “During a time when children need empathy, trauma-informed instruction, a focus on mental health and social/emotional learning, educators are gearing up instead for the testing season.”
The current plan by SED and the Board of Regents is to submit waiver requests soon after the February 5 review deadline and suspend any and all plans for publishing, distributing and administering any state tests until the state hears back from the federal Department of Education on their waiver requests.