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January Regents exams are canceled: NY state officials

Officials said the January exams cannot be offered safely or fairly this year.

An orange sign says “testing in progress, do not disturb” as students work in the background
State officials have canceled New York’s high school exit exams scheduled for January, but they have not made a decision about tests in June and August.
Alan Petersime / Chalkbeat

The state education department has canceled New York’s high school exit tests that were scheduled for January, Interim Commissioner Betty Rosa announced Thursday.

January’s Regents exams cannot be offered “safely, equitably, and fairly” due to the pandemic, as schools are offering only some days of in-person instruction, Rosa said in a memo to school districts. She did not, however, say what will happen with Regents in June and August, nor what will happen with the grades 3-8 English and math tests that are typically administered in March and April.

“We will continue to monitor applicable data and make a decision on other State assessment programs as the school year progresses, being mindful of the evolving situation,” Rosa said.

Typically, students must take five Regents exams in order to graduate. About 300,000 students statewide take January tests, while 1.6 million take tests in June, state officials said.

State officials are proposing that students can be exempt from the January tests if they pass the related course by the end of the first semester of this school year. That proposal will go before the Board of Regents in December for approval.

State tests were canceled last school year as school buildings remained closed. New York was granted a waiver from the federal government, which mandates that states administer certain exams.

The federal government this year has indicated it had no plans to grant waivers again. But that could shift if the Democratic candidate Joe Biden wins the election. He indicated last December that he was against standardized testing. But in recent weeks, his campaign advisor was noncommittal on canceling such tests this school year.

If New York State ends up administering exams this spring, they would not offer them online, officials said in September.

Thursday’s announcement is a partial victory for some advocates and lawmakers, who have been pressing the state to cancel all exams again this year as students continue to learn largely online, with some having little access to proper devices or reliable internet.

“Extending these exemptions through August 2021 would allow students and educators to focus on the work of teaching and learning, confident that students who meet all other graduation requirements will not lose their chance to earn a diploma because of COVID-19,” said Ashley Grant, director of the Coalition of Multiple Pathways, which has advocated for eliminating Regents exams as a graduation requirement.

Still, others have supported the exams, hoping they could provide a window into how students have fared academically over the past school year.

Previously, state officials told advocates that canceling exams wasn’t as simple as last school year, since some Regents tests are tied to accountability measures the state must report to the federal government.

State officials did not immediately say how canceling these tests affects federal accountability requirements, or if they plan to apply for waivers for standardized exams this year.

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