It’s official: New York State calls off exams due to coronavirus closures

This year’s New York State standardized tests have been canceled, state officials announced Friday. 

The cancellation came shortly after President Donald Trump announced the federal government would grant states’ requests to forgo this year’s standardized exams amid coronavirus-related closures. State tests are required annually under federal law.

“It is most important that during the time of closure, schools are able to continue to focus their efforts toward local school and community needs, as they have been doing, and not be concerned about State assessments,” Board of Regents Chancellor Betty Rosa and Interim Commissioner Shannon Tahoe said in a joint statement. 

The state education department applied for waivers from testing, school accountability measures, and reporting requirements, they said. 

The move did not come as a surprise. Schools across the state are closed until at least April 1, with New York City schools closed until at least April 20. Reading exams were scheduled to start March 25, and math tests were to start on April 21. 

Pressure has been mounting on both the state and the federal government to cancel standardized testing this year. Earlier this week, the state education department halted the delivery of state reading tests to schools. 

Across the state, officials use growth and proficiency on state tests as a significant metric for identifying struggling schools. About a third of New York City high schools screen students, looking at various admissions criteria including state test scores. The same is true for about a quarter of the city’s middle schools.

Scrapping this year’s state tests means that there will not be two consecutive years of comparable tests until at least 2022. State officials are planning to overhaul the tests next year to align with the “Next Generation Learning Standards,” making year-over-year comparisons tricky, and complicating efforts to measure student and school performance.

A lack of apples-to-apples scores over time has been a recurring issue in New York’s state testing regime. Since 2013, the tests have shifted at least three times. In 2013, scores plummeted after the tests were aligned to Common Core standards. In 2016, students were given unlimited time to take their exams. And in 2018, the number of testing days changed from three to two. 

Each of those changes made the year-over-year results unreliable. At the same time, a large share of students statewide opted out of the tests entirely, further muddying the results. 

Ian Rosenblum, executive director for Education Trust-New York, said it was clear that the tests “are not viable” for this school year, but it will be important for districts to know how school closures will affect students.

“It will be critical for districts, teachers, and families to have other accurate information about how the loss of instructional time due to the pandemic may impact students so they can tailor resources and supports to help all students catch up on missed material,” Rosenblum said in a statement. “This also reinforces the importance of maximizing instructional continuity and other support for student well-being during the time schools are closed.”

Still, many educators and observers said canceling the exams was the right call.

“This decision rightly allows the school community to put our focus where it should be: On staying safe and healthy, rather than on preparing for tests at a time of significant disruption,” New York State United Teachers President Andy Pallotta said in a statement.

The state is also canceling fourth- and eighth-grade science tests, as well as the New York State English as a Second Language Achievement test, which tests the proficiency of students who are learning English. The New York State Alternate Assessment, administered to students with “severe cognitive disabilities” has also been canceled.

On Friday, state officials said they have not yet made any decisions about Regents exams, which are required to graduate high school in New York State.