A state agency is refusing to release exam results revealing the nature and extent of Covid learning loss among New York schoolchildren. And its excuses for hoarding the data are getting ever harder to believe.

Last spring marked the first full administration since the onset of the pandemic of the math and English Language Arts (ELA) exams taken annually by students statewide in grades 3-8.

In past years, the results were shared with parents and schools in the summer or early September by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), which also posted the results on its website as excel files showing test scores broken down by school, subject matter and student subgroup. A detailed press release was issued summarizing the results.

Not this year. In June, NYSED Deputy Commissioner Jason Harmon quietly issued an Orwellian memo that attracted little notice at the time. It said NYSED would depart from past practice by releasing exam results to parents and schools in August but would share the aggregate results with the public only at a later, unspecified date “this fall.” This it described as a “streamlined data process” intended to “increase data transparency and eliminate data confusion.”

The claimed rationale was that unbeknownst to literally everyone outside NYSED, the statewide exam data the agency had been sharing with parents and schools and posting on its website by or before early September each year was in truth just “preliminary” data. What’s more, NYSED had just now decided that such preliminary data is still sharable with parents and schools but no longer with the broad public —not until its deemed “final” data.

But here “preliminary” vs. “final” is literally a distinction without a difference. The state exam result data files NYSED publicly posted in prior years were never altered after the fact.

Last month, a Chalkbeat reporter asked the agency whether the preliminary and final results differed significantly in prior years. They were told to file a public records request for the data. The same article quotes NYSED’s Emily DeSantis explaining the ongoing delay of the statewide assessment results: “The Department is undergoing the labor-intensive process to compile millions of pieces of individual student data into statewide data.”

More than a month ago, on September 8, the Empire Center submitted to NYSED a FOIL request for the state exam data. On September 23, NYSED responded that it would need more time to respond to the request, and that it would provide such a response by January 31, 2023 (notwithstanding the June NYSED memo’s pledge to make the exam results public this fall).  The Empire Center responded by filing a formal appeal to Commissioner of Education Betty Rosa.  Tuesday, NYSED missed the deadline for responding to the appeal.  Yesterday, the Empire Center sued them to get the data.

Although NYSED won’t share the exam data with the public, it failed to quell demand for the information.  Under pressure from school districts, the agency last month agreed to drop the embargo under which it was forbidding them from releasing their results. To its credit, New York City soon thereafter made citywide exam results publicly available.  Not surprisingly, the results showed dramatic learning loss that was particularly pronounced among black and Hispanic students.

Over the next few years, New York schools will be spending billions of dollars in federal aid that’s largely intended to address learning loss during the pandemic. To assess how well that money is being spent, the public needs to know the nature and extent of the damage.

Thats why many states posted full results long ago. Texas, for instance, released its statewide achievement results three months ago, on July 1st.  Why are New Yorkers being denied the same data about our students’ learning?

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