Betty A. Rosa, the first Latina to head the state Education Department and a longtime advocate for changes in standardized testing, was named permanent commissioner Monday afternoon.
Rosa's promotion from interim commissioner was unanimously approved by the state's Board of Regents. She had served in an interim capacity since August in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, and formerly chaired the Regents board as chancellor.
Rosa, a former Bronx educator with an educational doctoral degree from Harvard University and more than 30 years' experience, was saluted by board colleagues as someone who "has never forgotten her Puerto Rican roots" and who will "hear the voices of those least likely to speak up, the vulnerable, those at risk."
"Now, more than ever, we must address the equity gaps our state faces, and I am eager to partner with the board and the education community to further these efforts," Rosa said after the vote.
The commissioner, who is 69, will continue to be paid $324,000 a year in that post.
Earlier in the day, Regents received an update on the education department's plans to seek federal waivers from required student testing for the second year in a row. Officials contended that state tests could not be safely and fairly administered during the pandemic.
More than 80% of public comments received on the department's draft waiver requests were favorable, Regents were told. Department officials said they expect to submit waiver requests to Washington later this week.
The waivers, if approved by the U.S. Department of Education, would allow New York to cancel state tests in grades three through eight, along with Regents exams usually administered in high schools. Federal authorities have not yet committed to wholesale test waivers, however.
Standardized testing in the midst of a health crisis is a hotly debated issue, both on Long Island and statewide.
In recent weeks, teacher unions and other groups wary of the stressful impact of testing have pushed for a second year of cancellations. Some business groups and others have argued, however, that parents and the public in general should be provided with data showing whether or not children are keeping up with their studies.
President Joe Biden has not yet committed on the issue of testing waivers, nor have members of his administration.
Biden's nominee for education secretary, Miguel Cardona, appeared to keep options open last week during his confirmation hearing before senators in Washington. Cardona previously served as Connecticut's state education commissioner, before his nomination for secretary.
Cardona, in response to questions at the hearing, rejected some uses of tests and endorsed others. He said he would not support bringing students back to school after they had opted for remote study at home, simply to be tested.
On the other hand, Cardona suggested that testing should resume for some students, because score results could be used to help set priorities for funding.
"I do feel, sir, that if we don't assess where our students are, and their level of performance, it's going to be difficult for us to provide some targeted support," he said.
Rosa's selection as chancellor in 2016 marked a dramatic shift in tone for the Regents board, where a majority in the past had supported rigorous testing, first enthusiastically and then with growing reluctance. In February 2019, Rosa drew widespread attention when she called for rethinking the state's use of Regents exams, which have been required for high school graduation for more than 140 years.
Until the pandemic struck, Rosa and the Regents board had been engaged in a long-term review of those three-hour exams, and of whether students should be granted alternate ways to earn diplomas.