This story was originally published by Chalkbeat, a nonprofit news organization covering public education. Sign up for their newsletters here:

New York is cancelling most spring and summer high school Regents exams.

State education officials approved the move on Monday along with removing the high school exit tests from this year’s graduation requirements, citing the myriad challenges students have faced during the pandemic.

Only Regents exams in Algebra I, English, living environment, and earth science — which are required under federal rules — will be administered this June.

New York and several other states asked the U.S. Department of Education to waive the Regents and other tests for the second year in a row, as students continue to learn through a mix of in-person and virtual learning, with varied access to the internet and devices. But the Biden administration decided to keep standardized exams in place across different grades this year.

In response, New York officials quickly announced plans to cancel Regents exams that are not federally required. Additionally, students won’t have to pass any Regents exams this school year to earn their diplomas. Instead, students must pass their Regents-based course by the end of this summer to earn credit.

“These changes aim to minimize distress of students, parents, teachers, administrators, in what we know has been an extraordinary year,” said Commissioner Betty Rosa during Monday’s monthly board meeting.

The rules are similar to last year, when all state tests were canceled last spring at the onset of the coronavirus pandemic. Close to 14% of last year’s seniors who passed a particular course received a Regents waiver in lieu of taking the exam. (Students take Regents starting in eighth grade, so many graduating seniors already had credits from previous courses.)

Not Reflective of What’s Being Learned

The news is a victory for advocates who have been pushing to cancel the exams and unlink them from graduation requirements. It may also be a comfort to many New York City high schoolers who don’t feel prepared to take the tests this year. 

Most of the city’s public school children have been learning remotely full-time this year, but even high school students who opted for some in-person classes were forced to learn from home full-time for the past four months after November’s systemwide school building shutdown. While elementary and middle schools have been back in session, high schools won’t be open until March 22.

Changes to this year’s exams were “a relief” for Danielle Johnson, a senior at the prestigious High School of American Studies in the Bronx, who would have needed the English Regents exam to earn her diploma.

Johnson opted for full-time remote learning this year because both she and her mother have health conditions that make them more susceptible to the coronavirus. But spotty internet, feelings of isolation at home as any only child, and her struggle to maintain a consistent schedule has made remote learning tough.

“In relation to what I learned at school, the Regents are not really reflective of what I’m learning consistently,” Johnson said.

While students might welcome the cancellation of exams, some education organizations might find the move be worrisome. Some organizations and federal lawmakers hoped the exams would provide a clearer picture of how students have been learning throughout the pandemic, and are looking for measures to determine whether students are meeting state standards.

Dia Bryant, the interim executive director of Education Trust-New York, an education policy advocacy group, said the state education department’s move meets basic federal requirements, but “it misses the mark for students who have worked hard in their coursework to earn a diploma that truly demonstrates they are prepared for their postsecondary ambitions.”

Cancelling exams last year, she said, meant that high-needs school districts disproportionately relied on exemptions to graduate students, “which raises broader concerns around whether or not our education system is preparing all students for their desired future, whether that be college or the workplace.”

Ed Trust-New York’s former executive director, Ian Rosenblum, is now deputy assistant secretary for K-12 policy and programs for the U.S. Department of Education, and penned the letter to districts about the federal decision to keep tests on this year.

The results from this year’s standardized exams, however, may not be reliable or provide useful data points for comparison because many parents may opt their children out, experts warn.

‘People Are Still Dying’

The department is still advocating for a wholesale cancellation of tests this year, Rosa said. Federal officials have 120 days to respond to New York’s exam waiver request from when it was sent last month.

Nan Mead, a Regent who represents New York City, urged federal officials to respond quickly. She pointed to recent conversations with families who feel uncertain about what to expect and are still struggling with the rippling effects of the coronavirus, including one child who is currently out of school because she and her mother are infected with COVID-19.

“For anyone at the federal level who’s listening, people are still getting sick, people are still dying in this pandemic, and it’s really unfortunate that we are still uncertain about the status of this waiver request,” Mead said.

Grades 3-8 math and English assessments will still be required this year under federal rules. Schools will have broad flexibility t in how they administer the exams and will not be held accountable for test results.

It remains unclear how exams for grades 3-8 will be administered. No child will be forced to go into school buildings in order to take a test, Rosa said. In New York City, roughly 70% of students are learning from home.

If federal officials deny the state’s waiver request, New York plans to only offer one of the two testing sessions of the grades 3-8 English exam and one for the math exams, state education officials said Monday. They also would offer only the written portion of the grades 4-8 science tests.

Districts will be receiving some more guidance about testing on Tuesday, Rosa said.

Correction: This article originally stated students in seventh grade can take Regents exams. Seventh graders can take courses that culminate in Regents exams but are not eligible to earn diploma credit until eighth grade.