School districts across New York on Monday will begin a scaled-back version of the annual state testing for grades three through eight, as the controversial assessments return after being canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The federally mandated standardized tests in past years have fueled a boycott among thousands of Long Island parents and some educators who feel they don’t accurately measure student achievement and unduly shape classroom instruction. Under the state Department of Education’s pandemic guidelines, no consequences to schools or students will be imposed for nonparticipation in testing.
“The exams are very low stakes, and schools won’t be held accountable for the results or the number of students who take them,” said Bill Heidenreich, president of the Nassau County Council of School Superintendents and superintendent of the Valley Stream Central High School District.
What to know
They’re back: Standardized state tests for grades 3-8 begin Monday.
They’re controversial: The federally mandated tests in the past have fueled a boycott among thousands of Long Island parents.
The tests: They will cover English Language Arts and mathematics, and were cut back from two days to one in each session.
The federal government declined the state Education Department’s request for a waiver to skip testing this year. The state had determined it would not administer tests remotely and argued the tests would be of limited value to assess educational progress or uncover systemic inequities from a school year where so many students are studying remotely.
Jeanette Deutermann, a parent who leads the Long Island Opt Out movement, said the federal government is imposing testing despite the state’s obvious reluctance.
“Most districts recognize most kids should not be tested this year,” said Deutermann, of Bellmore.
The tests cover English Language Arts and mathematics, and were cut back from two days to one in each session, with only one of two sessions mandatory. Under the amended rules, schools may choose a day within the entire testing window: from Monday to April 29 for the English tests, and May 3 to May 14 for math.
Remote students can opt to come in for testing but won’t be required to do so, while in-person students, can, as in any year, opt out of the testing. Totally remote schools will not have to open in-person for testing.
The tests were detached from any consequences in policy or funding. Schools will not face any penalties if less than 95% of the student body opts out, and results will be used only to assess individual students’ progress.
Regents exams, which are given near the end of the school year, won’t be required for class credit or graduation, with only four of them offered this year at all, in biology, earth science, algebra and English language arts.
The New York State Teachers Union also is urging parents to opt out of the tests in ads on social medial and, locally, on Long Island bus shelters. In a March 4 fact sheet, it said that standardized testing, which it normally opposes, is “especially unreliable right now.”
However, advocacy group The Education Trust in New York City favors testing and said its “polling throughout the pandemic has consistently found that New York parents overwhelmingly want more information about how their children’s education has been impacted during this period of interrupted instruction,” spokesperson Tiffany Lankes said.
She added, “We see the assessments as an opportunity to gather information about what students know so that parents, community members and schools can support them, especially now, after more than a year of interrupted instruction. That can also drive policy on what interventions or investments are needed, and to what extent.”
District response to the pandemic year testing has been mixed, Heidenreich said.
“On the one hand, it’s important to have data for those who take the tests, but on the other hand, it paints an incomplete picture,” he said. “Because so many students won’t be taking the tests, it would be hard to use the data to make programmatic decisions.”
In his district, which includes middle and high school students, he said no definitive data was available yet on how many would take the tests, but so far about half had opted in, including some remote students, compared to two-thirds in usual years. “We all expect the participation rates will be down,” Heidenreich said.
Jennifer Morrison, superintendent of the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school district, said that while the district would comply with the state’s mandate to conduct testing, “It seems to not be fruitful with this one [English] test, and it doesn’t seem like we’ll get something from it. It’s only about 24 questions.”
“We are monitoring progress locally and this is a one-shot test, so it seems like an exercise in compliance,” Morrison said, noting that districts test students, including remotely, at the beginning, middle and end of the academic year to measure progress. “Teachers get results in real time and are able to use that over the course of the school year.”
Instructions will come later for fourth- and eighth-grade science tests, which will consist of a single-session, written test only.