Schools Must Test, But Will Students Take Them?

Feds deny waiver, but parents can opt out

State education officials said on Wednesday (April 7) that the federal government has denied their request to waive year-end tests for public school students.

That means New York will require local districts such as Beacon, Haldane and Garrison only to give tests required by law: Regents exams in June in English, Algebra 1, earth science and living environment for high school students; shortened English and math tests for grades 3 to 8; and the written component of science tests for grades 4 and 8.

State officials said they were “deeply disappointed” with the decision. However, they noted that the feds had already agreed not to count test scores toward districts’ accountability standards; year-end tests will only be used to measure student progress.

The elementary and middle school English tests will be given later this month, with math exams to follow in May. New York State assigns a two-week window for each of the tests and will notify districts when to administer them.

Parents or guardians usually must submit written notification to opt students out of the tests, but the state dropped that requirement for 2021. In Beacon, children in grades 3 to 8 had until Thursday (April 8) to opt in to testing; otherwise, the district will assume they are not taking the exams.

“We talk about how difficult this year has been for students, but it’s been difficult for parents, too,” said Superintendent Matt Landahl. “I struggle with having a system where parents have to write a letter to opt their kids out of a test. This isn’t the year for that.”

On Wednesday, Landahl said he expected the number of students who would opt-in by the deadline “to be pretty low.” At Haldane, Superintendent Philip Benante said the district will begin discussing opt-in deadlines with families next week. Garrison said on Friday (April 9) that it planned to administer the English assessment for grades 3 to 8 on April 20. 

For Beacon students who opt-in, the tests will take place at their schools. Students not participating will continue with regular classroom instruction.

Brianne McDowell, a Beacon resident whose fourth-grade daughter has been attending classes virtually this year, said she saw little reason to opt in.

“I’m not a huge fan of year-end testing as it is,” she said, “and [virtual schooling] has not been as robust as it would be in person, so I’m really happy they’ve given us that option.”

Because of the differences in remote versus in-person learning, which expanded this week to four days per week at Beacon’s four elementary schools, McDowell said she’s not sure if her daughter “would even be up to par” if forced to take cumulative exams. 

“It would just be one more stress on the child” in an already stressful year, she said. 

Landahl said he does not expect the opt-in testing model to continue in 2022, after schools likely bring students back full-time.

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