New York education officials seek federal waiver to cancel state tests

ALBANY — State education officials will submit a request for permission from the federal government to forgo state testing this spring in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Two draft federal waiver requests related to state assessment and accountability requirements are now available for public comment, State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa and Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young Jr. announced Monday, Jan. 25.

The waiver references the health crisis which has resulted in many students receiving some or all of their instruction remotely. The New York State Education Department (NYSED) is accepting comments through Feb. 5 and stakeholders are encouraged to fill out a brief companion survey. The full text of each proposed waiver is posted on the department’s ESSA webpage.

“Throughout the pandemic, the Board’s priority has been the physical and mental health, safety, and well-being of the children and adults in our schools,” Young said.  “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.”

The board had already canceled January Regents exams and had said a decision on state tests would be coming soon.

“Given the varying circumstance in each school district, the only fair and appropriate decision at this time is to seek waivers to forego testing and accountability requirements for the 2020-21 school year,” Rosa said. “As part of this process we are seeking input from local stakeholders to ensure that our requests capture the experiences of our partners across the state and we look forward to reviewing their comments.”

The first waiver request seeks to waive state testing requirements at the elementary, middle and high school levels. This waiver would also allow the department to administer the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement Test (NYSELSAT) only to those English Language Learners who are able to attend school in person at least some days of the week.

The department’s second waiver request seeks to eliminate its requirement to grade schools and districts based on a series of accountability measures — graduation rates, chronic absenteeism, tests scores etc. — or identify schools for improvement in fall 2021 based on 2020-21 school year results.

Education officials will also want to seek an amendment to New York’s ESSA plan that would allow certain schools that are currently identified for improvement but made progress based on 2018-19 school year results to petition for removal from improvement status based on modified 2020-21 school year exit criteria.