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State: Waiver means end of math 'double-testing'

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John B.

New York State Education Commissioner Dr. John B. King, Jr. speaks to the press outside Oyster Bay High School. (Oct.15, 2013) Credit: Barry Sloan

Students in the seventh and eighth grades no longer face the prospect of being "double-tested" in mathematics after the U.S. Department of Education approved a state-requested waiver, Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said Thursday.

The federal action means that those students -- nearly 60,000 statewide -- will not have to take both the Regents math exam and the standard state assessment for their grade level, King said.

The change takes effect with tests given in the spring.

The state Board of Regents in October directed the Department of Education to submit the request seeking a waiver of provisions of federal law that require states to measure mathematics achievement using the same assessments for all students.

The waiver approval also means that teachers and schools do not have to prepare students in the seventh and eighth grades who are receiving instruction in Algebra I for multiple end-of-year assessments.

Previously, seventh- and eighth-grade students who were taking Algebra I and the Regents exam in Algebra I also were required to take the state math test for the grade in which they were enrolled. Districts now will be allowed to administer only the Regents exam in Algebra I to those students.

Susan A. Schnebel, who is superintendent of Islip schools and vice president of the Suffolk County School Superintendents Association, said she was "delighted" by the news.

"We have been literally fighting for this," she said Thursday.

In Islip, all eighth-grade students take Algebra I, also known as Integrated Algebra, and the passage rate is nearly 90 percent, she said. Students were not performing as well on the state math assessments, as the district was not teaching to that test.

"Integrated Algebra is the real foundation for math at the high school level," Schnebel said. "The students are doing better in chemistry and high school classes when they have that strong foundation."

The federal waiver also applies to students in grades seven and eight who take geometry and the Regents exam in that subject.

The state Department of Education is awaiting word from the federal department on other waiver requests regarding testing of students who are English language learners and those with cognitive disabilities.

The state has proposed giving Native Language Arts tests to Spanish-speaking English language learners who are new or recent arrivals to the United States. For students with significant cognitive disabilities, it is seeking permission to allow testing at students' instructional level rather than their chronological age.

King has faced anger from parents and educators over state exams and curriculum changes tied to the more rigorous Common Core academic standards. In October, he acknowledged publicly that students may be undergoing too much testing.

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