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State Ed. Dept. wants to cancel 3-8 testing

The state Education Department is taking steps to cancel third- through eighth-grade testing this spring.

The department has drafted requests for waivers to the U.S. Department of Education. The first waiver request seeks to waive state testing requirements at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. The waiver would also allow the state Education Department to administer the state English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSELSAT) only to those English Language Learners who are able to attend school in person at least some days of the week.

The second waiver request seeks 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. Separate from the waiver, the state Education Department will seek an amendment to New York’s approved ESSA plan that would allow certain schools that are currently identified for improvement but made progress based on 2018-19 school year results to petition for removal from improvement status based on modified 2020-21 school year exit criteria.

Comments on the waiver requests will be accepted through Feb. 5.

“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,” said Lester W. Young Jr., Board of Regents chancellor. “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.”

The request for waivers to cancel the tests comes about two weeks after the state’s largest teachers’ union sent a letter to Betty Rosa, interim state education commissioner, asking Rosa to cancel the tests due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Jolene DiBrango, New York State United Teachers vice president, said in the letter that the union has concerns about school districts across the state taking the same tests while having hundreds of different scheduling and learning plans.

“Throughout this school year there has not been a standardized mode of instruction across the state,” DiBrango said in the letter. “Schools have varying degrees of in person, hybrid, and remote instruction. Without standardized instructional modes there should not be a standardized test at the end of the year. On top of this, teachers are trying to address the social emotional needs of students caused by the pandemic and racial unrest caused by the death of George Floyd. Given the recent surge, it is unlikely that will change much for the rest of the school year, we urge you to request a federal waiver of the grade 3-8 and high school testing requirements to relieve the current pressure on the school system.”

DiBrango also had questions about the testing’s relationship to the state’s Next Generation Learning Standards. The state Board of Regents adopted revised English Language Arts and Mathematics learning standards in September 2017 with full implementation scheduled to begin in September in time for new third- through eighth-grade tests measuring students’ abilities starting in the spring of 2022.

“Work on preparing to implement the Next Generation Learning Standards has come to a halt as districts and teachers have focused on the impact the pandemic has had on teaching and learning. Instead of professional development on the new standards, districts had to focus professional development on remote and hybrid learning. In addition, teachers have struggled during the pandemic to teach all the standards required in each grade,” DiBrango wrote.

Comments on the draft waivers may be emailed to ESSAComments@nysed.gov with “ESSA Comments from (sender/organization name)” in the subject line. Comments will be accepted through February 5, 2021. In addition, stakeholders are encouraged to fill out a brief survey regarding the 2020-21 school year student assessment and school accountability processes.

In February, the state Education Department will present a summary of the public comments received on the two draft waiver requests to the Board of Regents. If the waivers are approved, the department will propose to the Board of Regents that it cancel the tests.

“Given the varying circumstance in each school district, the only fair and appropriate decision at this time is to seek waivers to forego testing and accountability requirements for the 2020-21 school year,” Rosa said. “As part of this process we are seeking input from local stakeholders to ensure that our requests capture the experiences of our partners across the state and we look forward to reviewing their comments.”

If the waivers are approved, the state Education Department will ask for an additional waiver from certain ESSA reporting requirements pertaining to assessments and accountability.

Comments on the draft waivers may be emailed to ESSAComments@nysed.gov with “ESSA Comments from (sender/organization name)” in the subject line. Comments will be accepted through February 5, 2021. In addition, stakeholders are encouraged to fill out a brief survey regarding the 2020-21 school year student assessment and school accountability processes.

In February, the state Education Department will present a summary of the public comments received on the two draft waiver requests to the Board of Regents. If the waivers are approved, the department will propose to the Board of Regents that it cancel the tests.

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