By Alejandra O’Connell-Domenech
The New York state Department of Education is seeking a federal waiver to exempt third through 12th grade students from taking state exams for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year as the country continues to grapple with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
NYSED announced via a press release on Monday that it sent two federal waiver requests on state assessment and accountability requirements which are now available online for public comment. The department is accepting comments until Feb. 5, according to the release.
“Given the varying circumstances in each school district, the only fair and appropriate decision at this time is to seek waiver to forego testing and accountability requirements,” said Interim Commissioner Betty A. Rosa.
“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,” said Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr., in a statement.
The first waiver asks for the omission of state testing requirements for elementary, middle and high school students and allow the NYSED to give the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test only to those students who are attending school in person some days of the week.
The second waiver asks for permission to do away with a federal requirement that asks NYSED to assign a level 1 to 4 to “accountability subgroups” at a public school or school district based on performance. The grading system is meant to identify areas of most need of support and improvement. In addition, the second waiver proposes amending the New York state ESSA plan to allow schools currently identified for improvement to use 2018-19 standards instead of modified 2020-21 exit criteria.
The announcement comes shortly after state education officials canceled the January High School Board of Regents Exams due to the pandemic and issued modified diploma requirements for graduating students. Normally, New York state public high school students need to take and pass five Regents exams in order to graduate. But all Regents have been canceled since the pandemic first reached the state in March of last year.
After state officials broke the news about the petition, the state teacher’s union voiced their support for the move.
“In a year that has been anything but standardized, it’s the right move to seek this waiver to cancel this spring’s standardized exams,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “Educators know their students’ needs and how to maximize their potential. We’re thankful that the Department and Regents are taking this step and are here to work them to ensure students can still showcase their hard work this spring in a safe and equitable manner.”
“Interim Commissioner Rosa, Regents Chancellor Young and the Board are putting students’ physical, social and emotional well-being first with this request,” added NYSUT Executive Vice President Jolene T. DiBrango in a statement. “We’ve heard from countless educators across the state who know that canceling this year’s exams is in the best interest of their students. We urge the federal government to hear their voices and grant this request.”