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Far fewer NY students took standardized tests in grades 3-8 last spring, education officials say

State authorities, in releasing the test results, concluded

State authorities, in releasing the test results, concluded that because of low participation, they wouldn't be compared against previous years' performance. Credit: Randee Daddona

Only about 40% of students on Long Island and statewide participated in the latest round of grades 3-8 testing due to effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and other factors, according to calculations by state education officials and Newsday.

Test results include more than 110 school districts in Nassau and Suffolk counties, along with four regional public charter schools.

WHAT TO KNOW 

About 60% of eligible students statewide and on Long Island missed the latest round of state tests in grades 3-8 due to impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to data released by the state Thursday. 

Test participation was far lower statewide among Black and Hispanic students than whites, and also low among students with disabilities and those living in poverty. 

On Long Island, passing rates for students tested in eighth-grade English ranged widely, from 80% or higher in some districts to 35% or lower in others. 

Moreover, there were sharp disparities in testing rates statewide among students by economic status, ethnicity and race, with 55.5% of white students participating, compared with 30.1% of Hispanics and 26.6% of Blacks. Tests in English and math were conducted last April and May on Long Island and statewide.

"The pandemic exacerbated already existing inequities for students, and this fact is most evident in our 2021 statewide assessment participation rates," said Lester W. Young Jr., chancellor of the state's Board of Regents, during a news conference Thursday.

Parents of students who were tested should be receiving scores soon from their local districts, state officials added.

In an ordinary year, over 80% of eligible students participate in the tests, according to the state Education Department. In the Nassau-Suffolk region, the figure has run around 50%.

As usual, some regions and localities scored far higher than others.

On eighth-grade English tests, for example, 70.1% of students tested in Nassau County earned passing marks, compared with 57% in Suffolk County and 58.8% statewide. Among Nassau's districts, North Shore had the highest numbers with 95% of students passing, while Roosevelt was lowest with 26%.

Comparisons were inexact, however, because numbers were based on students tested rather than on total enrollments.

One key factor affecting last spring's testing was exemptions for students whose families opted for full-time remote instruction at home. Some Long Island school leaders expect participation to improve as the state and local districts switch to more normal testing procedures.

One veteran administrator, Charles Murphy, superintendent of Island Trees schools, noted that about 900 students in his system were quarantined at one point or another during the past school year due to the pandemic. This year, only one student has been quarantined, he added.

"We're in a much better position than last year," said Murphy, who has served 13 years as schools chief in his 2,160-student district. "This year's testing should give a much better sample size."

Grades 3-8 testing, normally required by federal law, was canceled entirely in the spring of 2020 due to the pandemic. When assessments resumed last spring, they were far shorter, with one day of testing for each subject, rather than the usual two days.

Before last spring's testing, Albany officials sought a blanket federal exemption, partly on grounds that mass assessments could pose a health hazard. Washington rejected the request, saying that testing was needed to determine the pandemic's effects on learning and to pinpoint communities in need of extra financial assistance.

Now the state has declared that regular testing will resume this coming spring, with two days devoted to both English and math. Education Commissioner Betty Rosa, who has sometimes criticized federal testing policy in the past, recently offered a defense of the state's plans to carry out federal regulations in an open letter to parents.

"In an ordinary year, state assessments provide value to educators, parents and families as one of multiple measures to assess student learning," Rosa wrote in a letter posted on her department's website late last week. "In the big picture, they represent one of many ways to identify achievement and opportunity gaps for our most vulnerable student populations."

On the Island, some parent leaders opposed to what they view as overreliance on paper-and-pencil exams would like to see grades 3-8 assessments reduced in scope rather than restored.

"New York State's hands are tied by the federal government," said Jeanette Deutermann of Bellmore, a parent and founder of Long Island's testing opt-out movement. "What parents want to hear is how New York State plans to move away from excessive standardized testing."

Grades 3-8 testing in New York has been troubled by low student participation rates for the past eight years. The problem began with a series of annual boycotts by parents, who contended that the tests put too much pressure both on students and their teachers, whose job performance was measured in part by scoring results.

In 2019, state lawmakers voted to sever the connection between student testing and teacher evaluation, but test participation has remained low.

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