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A federal push for standardized student testing

This week's top stories

1. A federal push for standardized student testing

President Joe Biden's administration this week underlined its support for resumption of standardized student testing nationwide, a potential blow to states such as New York that were seeking test waivers for the second consecutive year.

In an approach it described as balanced and flexible, the U.S. Education Department released a letter Monday night saying states can apply, as they did last year, for waivers from federal "accountability" rules for schools. Under those rules, schools where large numbers of students fail federally required tests face potential lowering of their academic ratings.

The letter also said that schools still struggling with the COVID-19 pandemic could, in some instances, postpone exams until summer or fall. The U.S. Education Department, in its letter, suggested that states consider a variety of options, such as shortened tests, remote assessment of homebound students, and later testing in the summer or fall of 2021.

In Albany, Emily DeSantis, a spokesperson for the state Education Department, voiced disappointment with the federal decision, adding that her agency would continue discussions with the U.S. department to "find a path forward that is best for the health and safety of all New York's children." DeSantis added that the state's policymaking Board of Regents in March would consider adopting regulations freeing students from the need to pass state Regents exams in order to earn high school diplomas.

"This is going to be a disaster, in my opinion," said Cordelia Anthony, a science teacher and local union leader in Farmingdale, of the push for renewed testing. She agreed that testing could not be delivered uniformly in an educational setting where some students attend schools every day and others on alternating days, while still others work remotely at home full time.

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2. COVID-19 outbreak puts Wantagh seniors on remote

The senior class at Wantagh High School is being forced into remote learning because of an outbreak of COVID-19 among some students at the school, the district superintendent said Wednesday.

  • Fifteen students including 13 seniors who "appear to be directly connected to a social gathering" last weekend have tested positive for the virus, Wantagh schools Superintendent John C. McNamara said in a statement. The cases prompted school officials to shut down in-person instruction and place all senior class members in full-time remote classes this week.
  • The district is offering free screening tests to senior class members. Senior student-athletes not identified will be allowed to participate in athletics following COVID testing protocols.

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3. Pandemic side effect: College students' financial struggles

When the coronavirus pandemic hit last spring, Johanna Metz lost hours at her retail job and spent a month on unemployment before finding full-time work at a brand-name outlet store in Riverhead. She needed the work hours to pay expenses while attending SUNY Old Westbury.

  • With the arrival of spring semester bills, universities and community colleges said they are seeing an even greater need for financial assistance. Many students, besides their own job woes, report a loss in financial support from family members also beset with employment and business setbacks.
  • "I’ll only be working 15 hours a week, which is terrible," Metz said. "It’s just getting slower and slower — because of COVID, people don’t want to come out. They have to cut everyone’s hours. … It’s pretty rough, I’m not going to lie to you."
  • New York Institute of Technology’s Karen Vahey, dean of Admissions and Financial Aid, said she’s seen a 27% increase in requests for undergraduate aid for 2021-22 and a 4% rise for graduate student aid requests.

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4. Len Klein, beloved Commack North teacher, dies at 92

Whether he was with his family, in front of his science classes, or on local theater stages, Leonard "Len" Klein had a unique approach to whatever he was doing.

  • Klein, who taught for 40 years, including more than 30 in the Commack school district — and performed in nearly 140 theater productions on Long Island and New Jersey — died Nov. 18 of COVID-19-related issues in Somerville, New Jersey, his family said. He was 92.
  • Klein’s teaching career was centered mostly at Commack North High School. It’s rare that a teacher be feted, especially a science teacher. But that was the case for Klein, whose students made a "Mr. Klein Fan Club" that included a newsletter and buttons, said his daughter, Stacye Klein Nekritz.
  • "He viewed everything as an opportunity to learn — for himself, his family, and his students. It’s the way he approached his teaching job and his work in the theater," said his son, Shelley Klein.

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Resources for you

  • For a fun at-home activity, Newsday put together four kid-friendly meals to make at home. Also, be on the lookout for Nature Now 360 next month, a new online magazine exploring nature on Long Island for kids.
  • Many parents don’t know the signs of teen depression or where to turn for help. Erika's Lighthouse Parent Handbook on childhood and teen depression aims to help parents understand what’s going on with their child, find the right treatment, deal with schools and negotiate insurance issues. Visit erikaslighthouse.org.
  • Funbrain, created for kids in grades Pre-K through 8, offers hundreds of games, books, comics, and videos that develop skills in math, reading, problem-solving and literacy. Visit Funbrain.com.

Round of applause

Roslyn High School student Caroline Faber has found a crafty way to bring smiles to children in homeless shelters on Long Island and elsewhere. The ninth-grader is conducting up to nine weekly arts and crafts workshops through Zoom as part of a program called Craft With Me, which she launched in June.

She also has accumulated 17 volunteers that conduct weekly workshops and a group of 77 children who signed up for the sessions through the nonprofit Bake Back America. Faber has raised about $2,000 for the purchase of craft materials through the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe and invites people to purchase materials, which she mails to the children, through an Amazon Wish List.

"I like to do arts and crafts, and I thought the kids would really like it," said Faber, 14. Of the program's importance, she said: "They don't have a lot of supplies and they get to be creative; I think it's helpful for them, especially during COVID."

Your questions answered

Have questions? Send them to ednews@newsday.com. Newsday’s education reporting team will pick one to answer in this space each week.

Do teachers have to be vaccinated before schools return to a full in-person schedule?

The White House has said that schools can safely reopen with getting all teachers vaccinated first as a prerequisite, citing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's most recent guidance. White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Sunday told ABC’s "This Week" that President Joe Biden believes school districts "need to make a determination about what works best for them based on" CDC guidelines.

"The CDC is saying, in order to be safe, there are a number of steps that can be taken," Psaki said. "Vaccinating teachers is one of them, but having smaller class sizes, having kids more separated on buses, more PPE, more testing, facilities upgrades, those are additional steps that can be taken, and our secretary of education will work with school districts to implement that."

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the president, and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has also said he believed teacher vaccines should be a priority but not a requirement for reopening schools.

Decisions on Long Island school reopenings — whether to hold classes in person or remotely — vary at the local level and are based on virus transmission rates in the district and local communities, as well as guidance from New York State.

Some Long Island districts have expanded the number of in-person learning days as the caseload drops, but plans have had to change. For example, last week the Manhasset district opted for remote-only learning after 38 students tested positive for the virus. Education officials predict that once widespread vaccinations are in place, districts will be able to lessen restrictions.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo also pushed this week to get as many students as possible back into classrooms for in-person instruction. He has asked school districts to report to local governments their progress in returning students to in-person instruction and how many of their teachers are vaccinated.

— Find the latest education news at newsday.com/long-island/education. Catherine Carrera can be reached at catherine.carrera@newsday.com or on Twitter @CattCarrera.

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