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New York teachers union to DeVos: Waive state testing mandate amid pandemic

Paul Townsend/Flickr (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The New York State United Teachers union is calling on U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos to waive federal state testing requirements this year as schools continue to close in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

New York Governor Andrew M. Cuomo ordered the closure of all schools in the state for two weeks effective Wednesday in an effort to slow the spread of the new virus. 

“I taught for 24 years. I have never seen a time like this before,” said NYSUT President Andy Pallotta. “With the anxiety, the worry, the apprehension that the students, educators, parents [and] whole communities are dealing with, I don’t believe that testing fits anywhere in that equation.”

However, Pallotta said only the federal government has the authority to call off state tests. 

The Department of Education issued a fact sheet last week that said it would consider a one-year waiver for states severely impacted by the novel coronavirus but has not yet issued any such decision.

“The state can only do so much,” Pallotta said. “It’s the federal government, it’s Betsy DeVos, as the person in charge, who can really just say, ‘Okay, we realize that the whole world has changed and we’re going to waive the tests for this year.’”

New York State tests for students in third through eighth grades in English Language Arts were scheduled to take place next week, with make-up dates from March 30 to April 8. Math tests are scheduled to be administered starting on April 20—the same day Erie County schools currently plan to re-open.

Asked whether there might be some value to moving forward with the tests to document the impact of the pandemic on student learning, Pallotta said no.

“I think it would be a disaster,” he said. “We already have one disaster going on and to even give the test and see how a worldwide crisis impacts testing? I think we all know the answer to that.”

Pallotta added that he expects the statewide school closures to get extended in light of forecasts that the number of new infections may not peak for another 45 days.

As for parents who are praising their children’s teachers on social media after being in charge of their education for a few days, Pallotta said he hopes the unprecedented situation translates into greater public respect for teachers.

“Nobody realizes what it’s like to be a teacher until you have to teach,” he said. “I think [this moment] brings the education community closer with parents because there will be so much more understanding.”

UPDATE 3/20 1:54 p.m.: President Trump announced during a Friday press conference that all states can cancel standardized tests this year. The U.S. Department of Education has also made a streamlined application form for test waivers available.

Kyle Mackie is a multimedia journalist with reporting experience in Israel and the Palestinian territories, the Western Balkans and New York City. She joined WBFO to cover education and more in June 2019.
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