Task Force Report
From elementary school to high school graduation, standardized test scores rarely provide an accurate representation of the whole child or indicate a student’s full potential. NYSUT is recommending a reimagining of the current system of student assessments in the state of New York.
NYSUT argues that the grades 3-8 tests place undue stress on students, parents and educators, without providing significant educational value. These tests, driven by federal mandates and enforced by state regulations, are administered too often, and, in many cases, are developmentally inappropriate.
While appropriate testing is essential in gauging student progress, the focus on high-stakes testing has led to a narrowed curriculum and a push towards “test prep" rather than differentiated instruction.
Additionally, we should revisit the state's high school graduation requirements, which are currently based on four core Regents exams. While high standards should be upheld, we should broaden graduation requirements to include additional pathways, so our students are genuinely prepared for the demands of the modern workforce and higher education.
Our schools should be places where — from their earliest days to high school graduation — our students are provided with opportunities to flourish and succeed. This is what drives our educators and offers the best outcomes for our students.
Primary Recommendations of This Report
Revise the federal testing requirements through the proposed More Teaching Less Testing Act so they take less of a toll on students and provide valuable information for educators and parents.
- Consider a return to a grade-span testing approach as opposed to the current annual testing requirement; or
- Employ representative sampling rather than an all-students, all-the-time approach to testing.
Fix the flawed grades 3-8 assessment system.
- Revise the content and structure of the exams.
- Maintain options for pencil and paper tests amid the transition to fully digital assessments.
- Revise test results and scoring practices to have more real-world, instructional use.
- Delink test results and Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR).
Reimagine high school graduation requirements to ensure that students learn skills and demonstrate readiness for higher education and the 21st century workforce.
- Allow for additional pathways within the current graduation requirements to include alternative programs and assessments such as interdisciplinary capstone projects, project-based learning, performance-based assessments and dual-enrollment courses.
- Provide opportunities for experiential and skills-based programs to be included as alternative graduation pathways to Regents exams.
School is a place where childhood happens and where our futures are formed.
We send our young and innately curious children into kindergarten and look ahead to the end of 12th grade when they will emerge as young adults who are ready to tackle the world. This is the promise of our public schools, the dreams of so many children and parents and the mission that drives our educators.
Early in their schooling, children's natural curiosity should be encouraged and fostered into a lifelong love of learning. Through high school, the mission of our schools is to prepare young adults for higher education and for today’s complex job market.
But sadly, the current state of student testing and assessments is falling short of helping us realize this dream.
The standardized tests administered by the state in grades 3 through 8 are burdensome on students, parents and educators, and diminish the amount of instructional time for students. The exams, in their current forms, rely on dense reading passages and obscure vocabulary, often at a level higher than the grade level content being tested.
To succeed in the 21st-century economy, our students will need to develop key skills such as critical thinking, collaboration, creativity, and communication. Preparing students for the federally mandated standardized tests does little to build these essential skills.
Similarly, the state’s current graduation requirements, centered on four core Regents exams, do not fully align with the needs of our modern society or the skills needed for career readiness. Our students have many paths to success after high school. Learners should be able to demonstrate their mastery of skills through multiple measures. We should expand graduation requirements to include experiential and skills-based pathways in addition to the current Regents standards.
Educators know that appropriate and smart testing has a role to play in the modern classroom. They design and adjust instruction for their diverse learners based on formative daily assessments to meet their students' individual needs. Throughout a child’s development, assessments provide information and diagnostics on student progress that can help inform teachers and parents. Our educators want to ensure that students can confidently enter the modern workforce or higher education upon graduating high school. Age-appropriate testing and reimagined graduation requirements can help meet these needs.
But, when high-stakes tests are overemphasized as sole methods of achievement, evidence has shown the impacts of these tests turn negative. Instructors feel pressure to narrow curriculum just to tested subjects and to focus on particular students who score just below the average in an effort to boost up a school's median test score ratings.
To address these testing and evaluation issues with real-world solutions, NYSUT convened a group of experienced educators to recommend updated teaching and learning approaches to assessments in school. The More Teaching Less Testing Task Force is comprised of 65 educators, school-related professionals and higher education faculty, including 19 New York State Teachers of the Year. Their recommendations align with the Next Generation Learning standards, consider the need for schools and administrators to maintain and promote New York’s high educational standards, and, if enacted, will foster the love of learning and the joy of teaching in our schools.
The task force's findings and suggestions advocate for a modernized testing system that not only serves its primary purpose of student assessment, but also helps our schools live up to their promise to nurture children and prepare tomorrow’s adults. If adopted, the recommendations presented in this report would support our students to achieve success in the job market of tomorrow and would facilitate the recruitment and retention of the talented individuals that we need in the education profession.
Task Force Findings and Recommendations
Federal Mandates for Standardized Testing
The Task Force reports that the quantity of tests being mandated is simply too great. The too-frequent testing leaves a negative impact on students and educators.
U.S. students now take a devastating average of 112 standardized tests from pre-kindergarten to 12th grade, according to the Council of Great City Schools.
The existing federal testing mandates, introduced over two decades ago, originated from the No Child Left Behind Act and were later sustained by the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) in 2015.
The federal mandate requires assessments in each of grades 3-8 and at least once in grades 9-12 in Math and in Reading or Language Arts. Science is administered less frequently: one time each during grades 3-5, grades 6-9 and grades 10-12. States can decide if these exams are given through a single summative assessment or through multiple interim assessments during the academic year that result in a single summative score. New York state’s current ESSA plan utilizes the single summative assessment option.
Educators have long expressed concerns about this testing regimen. Just a few years after its enactment, teachers began to submit reports about how the tests negatively transformed classroom instruction, stifled student enthusiasm and limited the curriculum. These types of reports have become the norm, not the outliers, in recent years.
The Task Force reports that testing mandates are too hyper-focused on certain subjects, often at the expense of a wide-ranging educational experience for students.
The emphasis on testing ELA and math, every year for all students, means that teachers must shift curriculum resources to these subjects, often at the expense of providing students with a wider range of educational opportunities. Many elementary school schedules have been forced to shift almost entirely toward math and English exam requirements at the expense of other subjects critical to student success.
“We are dropping Science and Social Studies, and because of these tests, our students’ knowledge gap is actually getting wider.”
- NYSUT More Teaching Less Testing Task Force member
Evidence shows that the impact of frequent high-stakes testing has been a narrowing of the curriculum to those items appearing on the tests and a focus on those students who score just below the average to boost up a school’s median test score ratings.
Furthermore, the emphasis on testing forces teachers to "test prep" instead of offering differentiated instruction and teaching to the needs of the students, not to the test itself.
The Task Force supports recommendations and reforms outlined in U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s proposed More Teaching Less Testing Act.
Nationally, there is momentum to amend and reduce the influence of these tests. Early this year, U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman introduced the More Teaching Less Testing Act, aiming to grant states more freedom in formulating their assessment systems, a direct response to the growing sentiment that federal mandates have become too restrictive and misaligned with actual classroom needs. This proposal has been endorsed by the National Education Association, the American Federation of Teachers, the NAACP and a slew of other education and civil rights organizations across the country.
The NYSUT Task Force made the following recommendations to revise the federal testing requirements through the proposed More Teaching Less Testing Act so they are more reasonable and useful and don’t take a toll on students.
The Task Force recommends changing the current federal testing requirement for annual Grades 3-8 ELA and Math assessments to be consistent with Science 3-8 requirements. This approach would require that all students be tested in math and ELA just once in elementary school and once in middle school rather than annually. This would align with the natural segments of most students’ educational paths and could better demonstrate legitimate learning progression. This is also consistent with ESSA requirements for high school testing in Math, ELA and Science.
Or, RECOMMENDATION 2
Representative sampling, or matrix sampling, is a test evaluation method where different test items are administered to different groups of students. Instead of every student answering ALL questions, each student answers a portion of the questions. The combined results provide an overall picture of performance across all students and subjects. This method allows for a broader range of content or skills to be assessed while also decreasing the total test-taking time for all students. The National Assessment for Educational Progress tests currently use representative sampling for their administration, but such “sampling” cannot be used for the ESSA required tests.
New York State Grades 3-8 Testing
The Task Force finds that educators have been forced to change their approach to teaching because of the testing system. “Teaching to the test” is now a part of daily life in schools. Furthermore, linking test results to teacher evaluations creates incentive structures that run counter to how educators want to teach and how students naturally learn.
Educators are on the front lines, seeing firsthand the effects of testing on their students. Instead of prioritizing meaningful and interest-based learning, classrooms are often dominated by test preparation. This aggressive focus on testing, especially when the materials are not developmentally appropriate, disrupts quality classroom instruction.
Additionally, our educators face enormous pressure to “teach to the test” in order to raise student test scores on statewide standardized assessments. Teachers regularly report that classroom instruction is strongly focused on grades 3-8 statewide student assessments in order to avoid the punitive consequences of high-stakes tests for both individuals and for schools marked as low-performing.
The Task Force echoes what educators have been saying for years: The required tests are poorly designed, stressful and developmentally inappropriate for students.
Each year, educators submit thousands of reports of testing issues. The issues range from programming defects on computer-based tests to questions that are developmentally inappropriate.
While educators work diligently to provide dynamic and tailored lessons, the current state and federal testing mandates significantly undermine their efforts. Instead of cultivating a passion for learning, young students find themselves in a high-pressure race to prepare only for the test.
Tests that aren't suited for a child’s developmental stage can also demoralize hard-working students, particularly those with additional barriers such as New York’s growing populations of multi-language learners.
The non-stop testing cycle stresses everyone involved. Children are stressed by the pressure associated with the tests, as well as the relentless preparation and repeat cycle of exams. Educators are stressed because they have no desire to put their students through such an ordeal and because their professional evaluation often rides on the results. Parents are stressed because their children feel anxious about the tests. This intense pressure, from the top down, to perform well in a high-stakes assessment is often shown through our students' behaviors.
“I proctored the paper test for a group of third-grade students. They were stressed out, feeling down about themselves, and very frustrated during both days of the test. ’’
- NYSUT More Teaching Less Testing Task Force member
The Task Force reports that the current testing requirements and implementation are failing to provide useful information at appropriate times.
Educators know the value of reliable, usable test data. Authentic and timely data drives classroom instruction and helps teachers scaffold and utilize protocols and processes that support students in their learning journey. Data derived from faulty tests not only hinders those supports, but it also often devalues a student’s true understanding of the material and diminishes the progress made in a school year.
Worse still, misleading information from poor-quality tests can obstruct teaching and undervalue a student’s true grasp of the material. The 1-4 scoring system does not provide helpful information for parents or students and instead creates diminutive labels.
“Kids are not just a number and should not say things like, ‘I am a high 2.’”
- NYSUT More Teaching Less Testing Task Force member
The NYSUT Task Force made the following recommendations to fix the flawed grades 3-8 assessment system.
The grades 3-8 tests should be made developmentally appropriate. The Task Force recommends adjusting the format of the exams and reevaluating the content to ensure it is appropriate for the grade level and children taking them.
By the Spring of 2026, NYSED will require computer-based assessments for all state assessments (ELA, Math, and Science) administrated for grades 3-8. The Task Force recommends keeping in place the option of a pencil-and-paper test. Students who are unfamiliar with digital devices and lack typing skills are put at a disadvantage when tests are administered via computer. They should be able to opt for a paper test, based on parental direction or a student’s individualized education program.
Test results should be provided in terms that teachers and parents can realistically use to improve instruction for students. Currently, the state tests “grade” students on a Level 1-4 scoring system, which lacks nuance and specifics. The Task Force recommends putting results in understandable terms so teachers, students and parents can focus on student strengths and areas that need to be addressed.
The Task Force recommends that standardized state tests be delinked from required use in the Annual Professional Performance Review system to evaluate teachers or other school staff. This will eliminate the incentive to “teach to the test” and will shift focus back to instructional practices.
A legislative fix is close at hand, and state officials and lawmakers must come to a consensus this year on the final details of a bill that would allow for locally determined evaluation systems. There is broad consensus among most of New York’s education community that the teacher evaluation system should not rely on students’ exam performance, and the time to enact this change is now.
NYS High School Graduation Requirements and Regents Exams
The Task Force finds that in today's rapidly evolving global landscape, a one-size-fits-all approach to graduation requirements is not the best way to prepare students for the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.
New York’s first high school Regents exams were given in 1878 to ensure that high schools and academies provided consistent instruction and academic rigor. Throughout the 1900s, the number of Regents exams continued to grow and emphasis was placed on comprehensive exams that reflected the latest high school curriculum.
Prior to 1996, schools administered alternative pathways toward graduation through either a Regents or a local diploma option. While the Board has regularly adjusted the exams to meet new learning standards, and added new pathways in recent years, today’s graduation requirements continue to revolve around the core, high-stakes Regents exams.
Currently, two benchmarks must be met to graduate in New York state. The first is the successful completion of 22 units of credit. The second is passing a series of Regents exams and one additional pathway exam. There are multiple options for the pathway requirement, but very few students utilize them. Each require the successful completion of Regents exams. (See percentages below.)
The Task Force noted that the Regents exams do not incite as harsh reactions from educators as the grades 3-8 assessments, but our members are increasingly advocating for a “multiple pathways” approach to graduation requirements.
A full menu of options to earn a high school diploma — including, but not limited to, Regents exams — could provide rigorous academic instruction while ensuring that instruction aligns with students' passions, interests and the economy of the future. Students with diverse learning styles or needs would benefit from such an approach.
In May 2022, NYSUT surveyed members' opinions about graduation requirements and the use of Regents exams.
The Task Force found numerous examples of innovative classrooms across New York that include career and technical education, experiential learning opportunities in subjects like agriculture, textiles and forensics, or hands-on opportunities.
Instructors in these programs often spend extra time and energy to engage students in their individual language and at their learning and developmental levels. Educators design projects for students to demonstrate mastery of skills in various ways, and they provide scaffolds and supports for students as they move through the learning progression of skills. However, this pedagogy and practice are not considered when ensuring that students receive a diploma.
“It’s a disservice to students when we go above and beyond to provide scaffolding in the classroom, but can’t provide those supports that they NEED on the exams. Classroom practice isn’t ‘allowed’ on the [Regents] exams. It’s heartbreaking because we know what they have done in class – but they can’t show that on the exams.”
- NYSUT More Teaching Less Testing Task Force member
The Task Force questioned whether the focus solely on Regents exams provides a basis for real-world success for all students.
Most educators don’t want to spend their year teaching specific test-taking strategies. They want to ensure students are learning creativity, collaboration and problem-solving skills that will allow them to be competitive in the job market and in higher education settings.
“We differentiate instruction every single day (modify reading level so students can access content) but can’t modify ANYTHING on the actual exam. Students who can demonstrate high levels of content knowledge verbally in class because of learning disabilities won’t ever be able to demonstrate that on an exam or in any place that ‘matters’ for their success or transcript.”
- NYSUT More Teaching Less Testing Task Force member
The current graduation requirements in New York are one pathway to graduating students. However, these narrow requirements put many students at a disadvantage. They are entering a world that requires different skills and qualifications than those of former generations. They also do a disservice to students whose skills cannot be accurately measured by a standardized test.
Offering multiple pathways for graduates to demonstrate their knowledge would enhance the educational experience and maintain high standards, while give more students the opportunity to compete successfully in our changing, global economy.
The NYSUT Task Force made the following recommendations to reimagine high school graduation requirements to ensure that students learn skills and demonstrate readiness for higher education and the 21st century workforce.
NYSUT’s concerns with the overreliance on standardized tests in our public education system are not new. More than 10 years ago, NYSUT stated in public testimony:
“Standardized tests are not inherently bad. Combined with other measures of student learning, standardized tests can be a useful diagnostic tool for teachers to use. However, when standardized tests are overemphasized or misused, we must say enough is enough.”
While NYSUT was among the first to sound the alarm about flawed testing, our position is now widely recognized.
The recommendations presented in this report build upon NYSUT’s firm position that education should be far more than teaching to a test.
Rather, students should be provided with an education that helps them thrive as children and excel as adults. Educators should have the time and resources to employ the best teaching practices like hands-on, experiential learning, genuine reading instruction and activities that stimulate student curiosity and interest. They should have the space to apply creativity in their curricula and to celebrate students’ individual successes, especially those that might not align with stringent and arbitrary testing metrics.
Education is at a critical juncture. Our students are experiencing mental health issues, rising absenteeism and the negative impacts of excessive social media usage. Our educators are lacking in resources, losing crucial teaching time to focus on high-stakes testing and bearing the burden of staffing shortages. And our state needs a new generation of skilled problem-solvers to fill the jobs of today and meet the challenges of the future.
The issues we face have been building for years, and it's evident that the systems that led to them can't fix them. We must move away from the rigid, outdated standardized testing measures and adopt newer, more modern methods for preparing our students. These methods must uphold the same high standards, but deepen to reflect our changing world.
Together, we need to meet the needs of our students and to provide them with the education and opportunities they deserve.
NYSUT More Teaching Less Testing Task Force Members
Matt Adler, United Teachers of Seaford
Lori Atkinson, Copenhagen Teachers Association
Dean Bacigalupo, Island Park Faculty Association
Suri Barnes, United Federation of Teachers
Jennifer Birdsong-Ng, East Irondequoit Teachers
Christie Boydstom, Arlington Teachers Association
Michele Bushey, NYSUT Board of Director
Robyn Byrdalski, Kenmore Teachers Association
Dieu Cai-Hisu, Levittown United Teachers
Debra Calvino, Valley Central Teachers Association♦
Nicole Capsello, Syracuse Teachers Association
Amanda Centor, United Federation of Teachers
Amber Chandler, Frontier Teachers Association
Jenna Chevier, Holley Teachers Association
Ricardo Colon, United Federation of Teachers
Michael Comet, South Lewis Teachers Association
David Cordella, Arlington Teachers Association
Scott Cutaiar, Beekmantown Teacher Association
Heather Dahl, Wappingers Congress of Teachers
James Day, Massapequa Federation of Teachers
Lauren Degen, Hicksville Congress of Teachers
Ashli Dreher, Lewiston Porter United Teachers♦
Elizabeth Dunn, Clarence Teachers Association
Steve Farenga, Professional Staff Congress- Queens College
Jessica Franks, Batavia Teachers Association
David Gerwin, Professional Staff Congress- Queens College
Charles Giglio, Gloversville Teachers Association♦
Billy Green, United Federation of Teachers♦
Josephine Hall, Westbury Teachers Association
Christine Hanley, United Federation of Teachers
Lana Hower, Tech Valley High School
Cheryl Hughes, Kenmore Teachers Association
Amy Hysick, North Syracuse Education Association♦
Jennifer Ippolito, Wallkill Teachers Association
Marguerite Izzo, Malverne Teachers Association♦
Sara Jahrling, Western Sullivan United Teachers
Jill Jaruszewski, Lewiston-Porter United Teachers
Nancy Kula, Rush Henrietta Educators Association
Dora Leland, Horseheads Teachers Association
Lauri Lewitas, Carle Place Teachers Association
Leslie Lieman, Professional Staff Congress-Lehman College
Jennifer Lorio-Yedowitz, Yonkers Federation of Teachers
Robert Maier, Arlington Teachers Association
Melanie Moon-Wilary, Ichabod Crane Teachers Association
Christine Palmieri, Hicksville Congress of Teachers
Dana McDonough, Newburgh Teachers Association♦
Rachel Murat, Maine-Endwell Teachers Association♦
Richard Ognibene, Fairport Education Association♦
Greg Perles, North Shore Teachers Association
Stephanie Piscitelli, Hicksville Congress of Teachers
Tanya Reese, Lockport Education Association
Rich Rogers, Syracuse Teachers Association
Emily Roopchand, United Federation of Teachers
Carly Santangelo, Cuba-Rushford Teachers Association♦
Simone Seymore-Jackson, Roosevelt Teacher Association
Debra Swett, Tri-Valley Teachers Association
Tayana Thadal, Roosevelt Teachers Association
Serena Troiani, Port Washington Teachers Association
Adam Urbanski, Rochester Teachers Association
Tina Villalobos, Hicksville Congress of Teachers
Beth Wagner, Hewlett-Woodmere Faculty Association
Jennifer Wolfe, Oceanside Teachers Association♦
Brenda Wren, Sodus Teachers Association
Kim Wright, Ellenville Teachers Association
♦ Denotes New York State Teachers of the Year