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How New York State is really assessing and addressing learning loss and student achievement due to COVID


Much has been written recently about student testing and the impact of COVID on learning loss. News reports have discussed declining test scores on the NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) exam, alleged plans by the state Department of Education to “make it easier to pass” state assessments in math and the arts English language, and the importance of spending all federal funds allocated to New York schools for COVID recovery efforts.

Much of this report has missed the mark and has been wrong on key facts. I would like to correct those errors and describe how the State Board of Regents and the State Department of Education intend to improve the educational experience for all students in New York.

Our strategy is based on the premise that no single test score, by itself, can fully or accurately represent what a student knows and can do. To best support students, we must first collect information about where they are in terms of their learning. This information should come from multiple sources, including daily teacher interactions, classroom assessments, statewide assessments, and other measures, including the NAEP. Each source contributes different aspects to a general understanding of student learning. Once we have that understanding, we can make informed decisions about the best ways to support each student. When we consider multiple measures of a student’s knowledge and skills, we avoid missing out on all that a student is capable of achieving with the right support.

Just as it is dangerous to rely on a single test to inform our opinion of student achievement, it is dangerous to rely on a single source for our news, as evidenced by recent reports falsely claiming that the Department of Education plans to reduce tests. standards. for students. These reports are simply incorrect and represent a misunderstanding of both a national expert presentation and the timeline for implementing new assessments that measure New York State’s Next Generation Learning Standards.

The presentation at last week’s Board of Regents meeting provided an overview of the process for setting proficiency levels on new assessments. Students will be taking these assessments for the first time this spring and because they are new, there is no benchmark to compare the results. As detailed in the presentation, New York State teachers will meet this summer to recommend what students need to know and be able to do. To be clear, no predeterminations have been made. The impact of the pandemic on students’ abilities does not dictate the levels to which they can aspire; instead, our focus is on what we want them to achieve.

Some have also suggested that schools are not spending their federal COVID recovery dollars fast enough and therefore some funds may not be spent. That narrative is inaccurate. Since 2020, New York has received and distributed more than $14 billion in federal COVID relief funds to schools and districts across the state. The state Department of Education mandated districts use multiple measures to determine how best to use their funds in ways that have the most significant impact on their students, schools, and communities. And indeed, they are using their funds wisely, implementing individualized acceleration programs; intensive tutoring; comprehensive after-school programming; summer learning and enrichment activities; and integrated social-emotional learning, among other proven strategies and practices.

It is also important to remember that the funds reported as spent to date do not represent the dollars committed by schools and districts that have not yet been paid. Some activities, such as summer tutoring, allow a district to commit or spend funds only after the activities take place. Also, some contracts are paid only when the provider provides the service. The Department of Education will continue to provide technical support and will monitor districts’ use of these funds to ensure they are all being spent and being spent wisely, as we are actively doing.

If there is one thing that all parents and teachers know, it is that each child is unique, each one learns differently, and each one has a different way of showing what they know and can do. The Board of Regents and the Department of Education believe that our systems must evolve in ways that recognize and foster the unique abilities of all students. We must offer all students multiple and meaningful pathways to success, because that is precisely what they deserve.

Rosa is a state education commissioner.

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