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Reading, writing and recycling: NYSED issuing same test questions on state exams

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Bronx public school teacher Amanda Geduld, who holds a second job as a remote tutor for children living just outside the borough, was surprised to hear one of her students start off their session boasting about how easy a state exam she had just taken had been for her. 

Geduld asked the student, a 12-year-old girl from Westchester County, why she had felt the exam was so easy. The student explained she had felt she had taken the exact same sixth grade English Language Arts exam during one of her test prep courses so the exam was a breeze. 

The New York State Education Department confirmed earlier this week it recycled questions on this year’s state exams for students in the third through eighth grade claiming that there was not enough time to field new test questions during the pandemic — while the department waited for response from the federal government on a waiver for the exam. 

Last year, a number of state petitioned the Biden administration to cancel all federally-required standardized exams given the challenges of having students sit tests during the pandemic.

Washington told petitioning states in February they would still be required to administer exams this year but were allowed to give shortened or remote versions of the exam or increase examination windows. In addition, D.C. told states that schools would not be held accountable for test results this year. 

Earlier this month, the state education department informed families exams would be given in-person this year but students had the option of “opting into” the state standardized tests and there would be three different dates students in the third through eighth grade could take exams in English, Math and science. 

State officials claim using old test questions has some benefits such as saving money, although that was not the main driver for the decision. But recycling questions casts doubts on the utility of administering the exams amid the ongoing pandemic, which the Biden administration ordered states to do in order better understand the level of learning loss students have experienced during the last year.

As state officials noted, the students in most need of a state assessment, remote students, are not participating in exams. In New York City alone, roughly 700,000 public school students are taking their classes online at home.

Out of all students, students of color from lower-income households have been the most impacted by the pandemic and parents of students of color are four times more likely to keep their children enrolled in remote learning once in-person options are made available compared to white parents, according to state data. 

As a result, officials say, state exam results will be skewed and not be representative of learning loss many students have faced over the last 13 months. 

Schools began administering state exams in English on April 19 and interested students will continue to sit for the test until April 29. The state math examination will be administered between May 3-14 while science exams will be given on June 7-11.

Math and English exams will be all multiple choice and science exams will be made up of short answer and multiple choice questions.    

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