State requests waivers for student testing

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MASSENA — As they prepared to submit waiver requests to the U.S. Department of Education for state assessments and accountability requirements, state Education Department officials said they received plenty of input during a public comment period.

Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, New York state’s students weren’t required to take state assessments during the 2019-20 school year, and now state Education Department officials are asking the federal Department of Education to approve the latest waiver requests that would allow the state to forego testing students for this academic year.

They had posted the draft texts of the waivers on the department’s website for public comment starting Jan. 25 and ending Feb. 5. The public was invited to share its opinion either by submitting formal written comments via email or by completing a four-question survey. They said 468 individuals provided formal public comments and 39,493 individuals responded to the survey.

SED officials said the public comments were primarily submitted by individuals who identified themselves as parents, teachers and school staff members. The surveys were primarily submitted by teachers, parents and community members.

“We heard from educators and parents from across the state on this important decision,” said state Education Department Commissioner Betty A. Rosa in a statement. “The feedback was overwhelmingly positive and strengthens our resolve that our schools and students would be best served by waiving testing and accountability requirements. We continue to work with schools to protect the health and wellbeing of everyone in our schools during this challenging time.”

Among the public comments received, 84% supported not administering any state assessments this school year, while 16% supported administering some or all state assessments. Similarly, among survey respondents, 88.5% supported not administering any state assessments this school year, while 4.4% supported administering all state assessments.

SED officials said there was even greater public support for the proposed accountability waiver, with 100% of the respondents supporting not making accountability determinations for school districts based on the 2020-21 school year. Among the survey respondents, 92.4% supported not making determinations based on the results from this school year.

State Education Department officials said the primary reasons the public listed for not administering state assessments were because the students were not prepared for the tests because of the pandemic; equity issues would arise if the tests were administered; and administering the tests wold negatively affect the mental health of students.

With the public comment period closed, SED officials announced Friday that the requests had been sent to the U.S. Department of Education, which now has 120 day to act on them.

The waiver requests address the unique circumstances caused by the ongoing pandemic that have resulted in many students receiving some or all of their instruction remotely.

The first request asks for the waiver of state testing requirements at the elementary, middle and high school levels. The request also includes exempting the administration of required U.S. Department of Education end-of-course exams for certain grades, including Regents exams in English language arts, math and science.

The second waiver request seeks to eliminate the requirement to assign a Level 1 to 4 to each accountability subgroup for each indicator for which a school or district is accountable or identify schools for improvement in fall 2021 based on 2020-21 school year results.

Level 1 indicates student performance is well below their expected grade level. Level 2 means a child is partially proficient for their grade level. Level 3 indicates the child is considered on track for both the state’s graduation requirements and Common Core standards at their grade level. Level 4 means a child is excelling and is well above the expected standards for the grade level.

By law, U.S. Department of Education has 120 days to act upon the requests, but SED officials said they’re hopeful for an expedited response as the U.S. Department of Education is aware of the time sensitive nature of the requests, which are similar to those being made by a number of other states.

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