Across Long Island, standardized state testing resumed this week for students in grades 3-8, after two years of disruptions due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic. Credit: Johnny Milano

Full-scale standardized state testing resumed this week for thousands of students in grades 3-8, after two years of disruptions due largely to the COVID-19 pandemic.

On Long Island, as elsewhere across the state, students sat down for tests in English Language Arts, also known as ELA, beginning Tuesday, with others starting Wednesday. Schedules call for two consecutive days of testing during a three-day window that ends Thursday.

Most schools are providing paper-and-pencil tests this week, while others offer computerized versions over a longer period. Tests are untimed, as in the past, though the general expectation is that most students will be able to complete their work within 60 to 90 minutes per session, educators said.

Math tests for grades 3-8 start April 26 statewide. Both English and math tests in grades 3-8 have been required by federal law for the past 20 years, but participation has ebbed and flowed in recent years in the face of parent boycotts and the pandemic.

The state canceled testing altogether in 2020 as a health precaution, then resumed last year with abbreviated sessions that drew only about 40% of eligible students statewide. Some local school officials hope this week’s expanded assessment will help provide a fuller picture of student achievement and how it needs to be improved, though educators remain split on the question of the tests’ overall value in measuring performance.

“I think it’s important that we have a test in place,” said Lorna Lewis, superintendent of Malverne schools and an expert on curriculum issues. “I wish it were a shorter test, but it’s really important that we have a test in place. We’re coming out of COVID, so it’s important to know what the impact of COVID has been on different communities.”

Lewis is a past president of the New York State Council of School Superintendents, representing more than 875 administrators across New York, and she continues to serve as co-chair of a council committee on curriculum issues.

A student works on fractions Tuesday at George A. Jackson...

A student works on fractions Tuesday at George A. Jackson Elementary school in Jericho.  Credit: Johnny Milano

This week, several factors could affect student participation. For starters, state education officials who oversee testing said students who have chosen to work on their lessons remotely at home won't be required to come to schools for testing. 

Also, parent leaders of a statewide test-boycott movement said resistance remains strong among those who believe that standardized testing puts too much pressure on students, parents and teachers alike. The Island's movement, which began in 2013 in a few districts, has since spread across the entire region.

"Here we are again and, you know, parents continue to demonstrate that excessive grade 3-8 testing is not what they want for their children," said Jeanette Deutermann, a Bellmore resident and founder of Long Island Opt Out, a network of boycott supporters that is one of the state's largest. 

In Sachem, one of Long Island’s largest districts, the board president, Alex Piccirillo, together with Superintendent Christopher Pellettieri and representatives of other administrators and teachers, recently sent a letter to state authorities asking for creation of alternatives to current state tests. The local officials noted that opt-out rates in their district had run as high as 75%, adding that current tests had the effect of “a lightning rod in this and other communities.” 

Low student participation can hurt a district’s academic rating.

State education officials said a recently issued federal guideline, in effect, requires at least 95% of eligible students to participate in tests annually. Applications of that rule had been relaxed at the height of the pandemic but now are apparently being revived in calculating schools’ ratings.

“If you do not get 95% participation, you do get penalized for that,” said Lori Cannetti, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the Patchogue-Medford district. The remark was included in a video presentation for parents on the district’s website.

Jericho is among districts where test participation rates at this time last year were relatively high. Alex Rivera, principal of the district’s George A. Jackson Elementary School, said he saw some positive signs in the resumption of full-scale testing.

“What’s important is to give students continuity and consistency,” Rivera said. “It’s a step forward, and it is signaling a return to pre-COVID, not only academically, but also emotionally.”

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