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First on 2: Test questions copied from previous years for some ELA exams

In some cases, the New York State Education Department copied previous year's questions for the 2021 ELA exams

BUFFALO, N.Y. — 2 On Your Side has learned that some questions for this year's New York State English Language Arts (ELA) standardized tests were simply copied and pasted from previous years, raising concerns about the validity of the results.

Tens of thousands of students in grades 3 through 8 have already taken the exams, while others will do next week.

2 On Your Side spoke with multiple teachers in multiple districts who were concerned about the exams. The New York State Education Department would not give all of the facts but confirmed much of our reporting.

For the fifth grade ELA exam, multiple teachers said three of the four passages this year were taken directly from the 2019 test. That's significant because the 2019 exam was available online as a practice. Some teachers used that to study with their kids, while other teachers used other years.

One teacher told 2 On Your Side that completely invalidates the results, because kids who practiced with the 2019 test have a much better chance at doing well.

"Why even go through this," the teacher said.

It's not just fifth grade. Buffalo Public Schools confirmed some teachers reported passages copied from previous tests in the third and fourth grade ELA exams as well. The district reported that to the New York State Education Department.

"Given the pandemic, which provided extraordinary circumstances both last year and this year, NYSED requested a waiver from the (United States Department of Education) to cancel this year's assessments," a NYSED official told 2 On Your Side. "That waiver was not granted and we are unable to comment further at this time while testing is underway on the content of the Grades 3-8 ELA Tests."

That official said everyone can be assured the test results will be valid and students who participated will get their scores.

"The scores won't tell us anything," a teacher told 2 On Your Side, "except whether or not they were lucky enough to practice with the right questions."

The state official pointed out that kids most in need of assessment are those learning remotely, and they were not required to take the tests this year.

Emily DeSantis, a spokesperson for NYSED, provided 2 On Your Side with the following explanation:

"NYSED’s inability to field test questions during the pandemic required that previously administered test questions be used in the event that our assessment waiver request was not approved by USDE. The decision to use previously administered test questions in this extraordinary year was based on guidance from nationally recognized experts in the assessment field."

One teacher with decades of experience in standardized testing told 2 On Your Side she has never seen a previous year's question re-used and this was not handled appropriately.

"The integrity of the test and the validity of the test were compromised," she said.

2 On Your Side asked NYSED for specifics on how many questions were copied and for which grades and whether or not the same would happen for the math exams, which will be administered soon. NYSED refused to answer.

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