Following the closing of schools due to Coronavirus, New York state announced that English Language Arts (ELA) and Math assessments would be canceled for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Though these annual exams are required by law, NYC applied for and was promptly granted a waiver from the federal government, in light of the ongoing health crisis.
What will this mean for your kids? That depends. If they are in the lowest grades, likely nothing. (We’re not talking about how school funding is affected by the number of students who take the tests; that’s a separate issue.)
Public school tests scores don’t become important until fourth grade, when they are part of the admissions rubric for screened middle school/6th grade acceptance.
Fifth grade test scores are used by Hunter College High School to determine which students will be invited to take their qualifying test in 6th grade for 7th grade admission.
And 7th grade test scores are used by screened high schools for 9th grade admissions.
Some advocates are urging schools to take advantage of the opportunity to eliminate test scores as an admissions criteria, the same way the Department of Education (DOE) has already said attendance and punctuality will be frozen as a factor. If grades are also removed, it would basically mean unscreening all schools.
An idea that wasn’t exactly greeted with enthusiasm in at least one of the schools filled with students who the DOE said would benefit most from such a change.
Assuming universal unscreening is not implemented, what could the schools do instead?
Use Grades Only
If students choose to opt out of standardized tests, some schools will, instead, double the value of their grades. This could be problematic as grades are extremely subjective, not just school by school, but teacher by teacher. As this student found out, an A in Harlem wasn’t the same as an A on the Upper West Side.
In addition, there’s been no word yet whether, due to the shift to online learning, grades will even be given for the final semester, or whether schools will opt for Pass/Fail. If that’s the case, only first semester letter/number grades could be considered.
For those who believe using grades at this time is also inequitable, as some families clearly have many more resources for providing outside enrichment for their children if their classroom teacher is having a hard time giving instruction online (one of my son’s teachers has yet to make an appearance), or the household lacks access to the internet, they are absolutely right.
But, fact is, families who are in a position to provide plenty of outside enrichment, are already doing it. They are already getting their kids tutored. How else do you think those “good” schools get their “great” results?
Use Previous Year’s Test Scores
Instead of 7th grade test scores, high-schools could look at 6th grade. Instead of 6th grade, Hunter could look at 5th. Instead of 4th grade, middle schools could look at 3rd.
Just like schools’ average test scores, kids’ scores don’t change all that much from year to year.
“But that’s not fair,” some parents object. “My child wasn’t prepped for the previous year’s test, I was prepping them for this year!”
Well, then that’s kind of fairer, isn’t it? (And we thank you for your honesty.)
Move Tests To the Fall
Even if NYC schools remain closed for the rest of this academic year, everyone fervently hopes they will open again in September.
So why not administer the previous year’s tests in November, or even December, to give kids time to settle back into the learning grind.
Right now, middle and high school applications are due in early December, but placement decisions aren’t announced until March and April. There is absolutely no reason for a computer matching algorithm to take that long.
Push the tests back to the fall, and make the applications due in January or even February. If the process of placement is so onerous for the DOE, then push announcing the results back to May or June. That’s when Gifted & Talented placements are announced. Folks will survive.
Replace State Tests With the SHSAT (High School Only)
NY state tests take multiple days to administer. The Specialized High School Admissions Test (SHSAT) takes only a few hours.
The majority of students taking the SHSAT are Asian and white. The majority of the NYC school system is Black and Hispanic. As a result, admissions results are skewed.
Administering the SHSAT in place of state tests in 7th grade would give every student in NYC a crack at a specialized school. And the same score could also be used for applying to screened high schools. It would save the DOE time, it would save them money, it would diversify the application pool – and it would shine a spotlight on just how many NYC students are ready to do advanced level work (which might even convince those in charge that we need more, not less such schools). As well as who is being really underserved.
These are some of our suggestions. What do you think the Department of Ed should do?