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New York education officials to seek testing waivers for second straight year

Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr.

Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr. Credit: Hans Pennink

State education authorities said Monday they plan to seek federal waivers from required student testing for the second year in a row, as a result of academic disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Waivers, if granted by the U.S. Education Department, would allow cancellation of both English and math tests usually administered in grades three through eight, as well as Regents exams given in high schools. The same actions were taken across the state last spring and summer.

President Joe Biden administration's has not yet taken a formal position on test waivers. However, state officials who issued Monday's announcement recently said they were in close contact with their federal counterparts over the issue.

Test cancellations are a debated question on Long Island, where many teachers and parents contend students are under enough pressure already from frequent school closings and reopenings, without facing exams as well. At the same time, a growing number of school administrators are looking for alternate ways to track students' progress, due to concerns that many have fallen behind academically.

The chancellor of the state's Board of Regents, Lester W. Young Jr., cited the pandemic's effects on the physical safety and mental health of both adults and children as a major consideration. The 17-member board is responsible for state assessment programs, as well as setting general education policy.

"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," Young said.

As an alternative, some school superintendents on the Island have suggested that the state undertake a project that would allow comparisons of results on privately published tests already given to students — tests with names such as MAP Growth, Renaissance STAR and I-Ready — to those on tests likely to be canceled. Many districts rely on the private tests to track student progress in their own schools.

Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Malverne schools, is one regional expert pushing for comparisons of test scores, known as equating. Such measurements are vital, she said, in a period when national studies have indicated many students are lagging behind in their math studies, especially at key points such as fourth grade, when students are introduced to fractions and other important concepts.

"It seems to me that we need this information because fourth grade is a critical year," Lewis said.

State education officials have posted draft copies of their waiver requests on a department website, and invited public comment through Feb. 5. One waiver deals with potential test cancellations; another deals with the academic status ratings of schools based on students' scores. A summary of public comments will be submitted to the Regents board at its next monthly meeting on Feb. 8.

New York State United Teachers, a statewide union umbrella group, applauded Monday's announcement by state education leaders and urged federal officials to "hear their voices and grant this request." The union issued its own call for test cancellations last week.

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