New York officials vow to keep fighting for controversial testing rules after federal agency rejects them

Days after federal officials denied New York’s request to create special testing rules for students with disabilities and those still learning English, the state’s education chief vowed to keep up the fight.

New York is “not giving up” on its requests, State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia said during a state Board of Regents meeting on Monday. She added that state education officials are scheduled to speak with their counterparts at the federal education department later this month, when they will ask the federal officials to reverse their decision.

“We will continue to make the case that we believe that this is something important in New York,” she said.

Last week, the U.S. Department of Education rejected New York’s request for two waivers related to the state’s annual standardized tests for students in grades 3 to 8. One would have allowed some students with severe disabilities to take tests below their grade level, while the other would give students who recently arrived in the country and are still learning English additional time before their English scores are counted in school ratings.

The state submitted the waiver requests alongside a plan they were required to create under the new federal Every Student Succeeds Act. The waivers quickly became one of the most controversial aspects of the state’s submission, which the federal agency approved after making some relatively minor changes.

Some advocates for students with disabilities — and the New York City education department — have raised concerns about the waivers. They say that testing students below grade level would violate federal law, and would lower expectations of students with serious disabilities.

But state officials say that testing those students at their instructional level, rather than their age, would provide schools with more useful data about what they have actually learned. They add that the waiver would only affect a small group of students, and argue that it is unfair to give students tests they have no real chance of passing.

Board of Regents member Roger Tilles suggested New York should make the case for the testing waiver by analyzing what happens to students with disabilities when they take tests that surpass their ability level.

“What it does to those kids is put them on a pipeline to all kinds of problems,” Tilles said at Monday’s meeting.