Groups plea with Education Commissioner to suspend all school testing this year

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On Sept. 30, the Alliance for Quality Education and two dozen other groups released a letter to the New York State Interim Commissioner of Education, Betty Rosa, asking that she consider suspending all forms of mandatory state testing for the 2020-2021 school year. 

The letter states that the focus for this school year “should be on healing and learning, not on high stakes testing.” 

The letter cites a series of concerns and complications that have afflicted state educators, parents and students in 2020; school shutdowns that have been instated as a result of COVID-19, the state of social and political upheaval that has come as a result of the deaths of several unarmed black men and women, inspiring protests and riots countrywide, and the prospect of budget cuts that loom over the state’s education system as a result to the state’s projected $13.3 billion budget deficit.

“This year has been tumultuous for everyone, administrators, teachers, parents, and our young people,” the letter reads. “….. it is crystal clear that focusing on high stakes testing and such punitive accountability measures will cause more harm than good.”

The two dozen groups that signed the letter — including the New York Civil Liberties Union and Citizen Action of New York — are asking Rosa to apply for a waiver to suspend testing for the entire school year.

“We believe that both the state tests required under Every Student Succeeds Act and the testing required by New York State, locally chosen or Regents, must be suspended so this year is dedicated to healing and learning as best as possible.”

The letter highlights the fact that it is often the most disadvantaged students who have suffered the most this year from the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Testing will only add to this harm and will only serve to label these schools who already have less than others as failures, and the students scoring lower on the tests as ‘not as smart,’ or ‘hard working,’ or ‘committed to education’ as their white peers.”

The concerns voiced by the AQE in their letter are backed-up by a recent study conducted by the Brookings Institute, where it was estimated that students may begin the fall semester in 2020 with only 70 percent of the learning gains in reading and only 50 percent of the learning gains in mathematics that they would begin a semester with in a pre-COVID world. 

Furthermore, the transition from in-person learning to online learning has broadened the gap between already existent educational disparities, with low-income students who have either no access to the internet, or access only to lower-speed internet being at a major disadvantage.