The Fayetteville-Manlius School District Board of Education recently submitted a letter of support for the federal government to waive spring 2021 state standardized testing requirements for New York state students.
“Testing students using the traditional model and based on standards created outside of a pandemic would place an unnecessary burden on staff and students who are already struggling to keep up with daily teaching and learning,” the board’s letter states. “An ESSA-waiver would allow teachers to continue to provide the highest quality instruction possible, tailoring instruction to a hybrid learning model, and remediating as necessary, rather than preparing our students for a test designed to measure ‘standardized’ learning.”
The New York State Education Department plans to ask the federal government to waive spring 2021 state standardized testing requirements at the elementary, middle and high school levels for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year and to hold on assigning any new accountability designations, which identify schools and districts in need of improvement. It recently completed a public comment period on its draft requests.
“We are at a time in American history where we are striving to create equity in education for all. The demographic groups who have been most vulnerable to the financial and social inequities created by the pandemic will be the ones least prepared for testing,” the board letter states. “Testing these students would magnify those inequities. We must protect our students with disabilities, language barriers and economic disadvantages.”
The board stressed in its letter the toll that the pandemic is taking on students’ mental health and the critical role school staff members are playing in addressing students’ needs academically and emotionally. A waiver for the standardized testing requirement would allow staff members to spend more time and energy on supporting students’ mental health needs, the letter states.
F-M Superintendent Craig J. Tice also sent the state a letter of support for the waiver requests.
“Waiving the standardized testing requirements will allow our staff to focus valuable instructional time on our students’ immediate academic and social-emotional needs, ensuring that our most vulnerable children have consistent and comparable access to the supports, services and opportunities needed to achieve improved and equitable educational outcomes,” Tice wrote.
F-M Board of Education Letter of Support
Dear Chancellor Young,
We respectfully request that the U.S. Department of Education grant the New York State Education Department a waiver for the 2020-21 school year for the standardized testing requirement set forth in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (“ESSA”) Sec. 1111(b)(2). Sec. 1111(b)(2) states in pertinent part:
“Each state must implement a set of high-quality student academic assessments in mathematics, reading or language arts, and science. In the case of mathematics and reading or language arts, these assessments must be administered in each of grades 3 through 8 and at least once in grades 9 through 12. In the case of science, these assessments must be administered not less than one time each during grades 3 through 5; grades 6 through 9; and grades 10 through 12.”
The requested waiver will allow school districts, including ours, to continue to focus on providing services to students that focus instructional time on the immediate academic and social-emotional needs created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The world is very different from March of 2020 when schools changed to remote instruction for the remainder of the school year. Our district has gone from fully remote learning in the spring to a hybrid model for the 2020-21 school year. Students, staff and teachers in the Fayetteville-Manlius Central School District are working together to adapt as expectations and circumstances have changed. These changes include forced modifications in curriculum and instruction. Testing students using the traditional model and based on standards created outside of a pandemic would place an unnecessary burden on staff and students who are already
struggling to keep up with daily teaching and learning. An ESSA-waiver would allow teachers to continue to provide the highest quality instruction possible, tailoring instruction to a hybrid learning model, and remediating as necessary, rather than preparing our students for a test designed to measure “standardized” learning.
In addition, given the tremendous stress the pandemic is causing children this year, our teachers are highly focused on meeting the socio-emotional needs of our students. An ESSA-waiver for the standardized testing requirement would allow our educators to continue to spend more time and energy on supporting our students’ mental health needs and wellbeing.
Furthermore, our school district will not be able to physically administer a standardized test this year. Approximately 25 percent of Fayetteville-Manlius students are learning remotely, and without those students being tested, our district may not meet testing quotas in all demographic categories. Additionally, with our cohort model, students who do attend classes in the school buildings are only in class two days a week, so tests would have to be given twice, once for each in-person cohort. Testing would further interrupt regular instruction that is already taking place at a slower pace. We would like to maximize in-person learning days for students, rather than using those precious instructional days for standardized testing.
We are at a time in American history where we are striving to create equity in education for all. The demographic groups who have been most vulnerable to the financial and social inequities created by the pandemic will be the ones least prepared for testing. Testing these students would magnify those inequities. We must protect our students with disabilities, language
barriers, and economic disadvantages.
Our request to waive standardized testing requirements does not mean that our district is ignoring the importance of assessing student achievement and needs. Our district goal for the year has been to maintain a level of education consistent with the district’s high standards. We created a position this year for an Online Learning Specialist who assists with all aspects of remote learning planning, instructional design and professional development at
Fayetteville-Manlius. Teachers have in-service hours every Wednesday with this specialist, and are modifying their teaching and assessment techniques to fit with the circumstances. We firmly believe that a testing waiver will align well with the necessary shifts in educating and evaluating
students this academic year.
Ultimately, by eliminating standardized testing this academic year, we can reduce student anxiety and create opportunities for schools to utilize more innovative, meaningful, and holistic assessments to measure student growth and mastery of State learning standards. We respectfully request that testing requirements be waived for the 2020-21 school year.
Superintendent Craig J. Tice Letter of Support
Dear Chancellor Young,
On behalf of the students, staff and administrators of the Fayetteville-Manlius Central School District and the Fayetteville-Manlius Board of Education, I am writing to advocate for the U.S. Department of Education to grant the New York State Education Department a waiver of spring 2021 state standardized testing requirements.
In March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic forced our students and staff to transition to remote instruction with very little notice. In the interest of public health, I stand by that decision that was made in collaboration with the Onondaga County Health Department and New York state. However, that abrupt change in how we delivered instruction resulted in a noticeable interruption of the subject area educational attainment expected of our students.
As the pandemic continued, New York state tasked our school district with developing a school reopening plan for the 2020-21 school year that included the option for students to learn, at the discretion of their families, in either fully remote or hybrid instructional models. Since the start of the school year, our instructional staff have been delivering curriculum in a manner as close as possible to a traditional school year, but, to put it simply, our students are struggling with these remote and hybrid models. Some students thrive in a digital learning environment while others crave a return to the classroom on a regular basis.
Among our nearly 4,100 students, approximately 25 percent are participating in school remotely. The remaining 75 percent are receiving instruction three days per week from home. As we saw in spring 2020, remote instruction is again impacting our students’ subject area knowledge. Our students, like others across our state, are not learning in the same way that they did prior to the COVID-19 pandemic.
We respectfully request that the federal government issue an ESSA-waiver for the standardized testing requirement so that our staff members are able to focus on instruction and remediation rather than preparing our students for a test that will in no way possibly measure “standardized” learning during this unprecedented time in our nation’s history.
In studying the impact of COVID-19 on student learning outcomes, Columbia University researchers have discovered significant disparities in the degree to which ESSA accountability subgroups are receiving instruction through remote learning. Factors such as reliable access to technology and high-speed internet complicate the learning process for students when they are learning remotely, which all of our students do at least part-time.
We also have concerns as we anticipate that a significant percentage of students who are learning exclusively in a remote setting due to health and safety concerns will be unable to participate in assessments that must be administered in-person.
Based on this information, as well as our own staff members’ direct experience with our students, we believe the spring 2021 state assessments cannot be safely, equitably and fairly administered to all students. Our staff members are tirelessly working to support our students and have witnessed how the pandemic has adversely impacted the delivery of instruction to our economically disadvantaged students, children with disabilities and English language learners.
Waiving the standardized testing requirements will allow our staff to focus valuable instructional time on our students’ immediate academic and social-emotional needs, ensuring that our most vulnerable children have consistent and comparable access to the supports, services and opportunities needed to achieve improved and equitable educational outcomes.
Please allow us to focus our time and energy on leveling the playing field, or shoring it up, so that all of our students have equitable educational experiences and are not measured against a standard that they simply could not be prepared to meet this year.
Should you have any questions or need additional information, please feel free to contact me directly at 315-692-1200 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Craig J. Tice, Ph.D.
Superintendent of Schools