Goodbye, paper-and-pencil tests: New York starts rollout of online state exams

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New York state is changing the way students take standardized tests. Instead of filling out tiny bubbles with a number-two pencil, students in elementary and middle school will have state exams online.

The rollout isn’t happening all at once. But by the 2026 school year, all students in grades three through eight will be taking their spring English language arts, math, and science exams online. The rollout begins this April with fifth and eighth graders, and more tests and years will gradually be added.

“This isn’t necessarily a surprise to us in Rochester, probably throughout New York State. This is something we’ve been anticipating for years,” Mary Grow, president of the Monroe County Council of Superintendents, said.

Grow says that every district in Monroe County is generally prepared for the switch, and some already made the switch when it was first offered as an option in 2017.

Dr Zachary Warner, assistant commissioner for the Office of State Assessment with New York State, said they’ve been working with districts to ensure a smooth rollout.

“In Monroe County, one of the districts we worked closely with is Rush-Henrietta; they began testing on computer back in 2019, so they’ve got several years experience,” he said. “In this past year they tested over 2,000 students in that district.”

The state has also been researching if all districts will be able to make the switch. Warner says that most are expected to be able to digitize state testing without issue.

“For the most part districts have what they need,” he said. “There really isn’t an issue in terms of worrying about connectivity or devices anywhere in the state. Regardless of rural or income, districts are doing this work and they’re doing a great job of getting ready again, not just for the testing aspect but preparing students for a 21st century education.”

Warner says that some of that is thanks to the massive amounts of recent funding for internet connectivity in New York. As 49 other states already have implemented state testing, he says it’s time that New York join them.

Grow agrees.

“I think using technology makes sense,” she said. “Our students live in a digital world I daresay theyre probably better at navigating technology better than the adults are.”

Once it’s fully implemented, the program is also anticipated to save money, as the state won’t have to print and ship as many materials. But Warner says it’s not about the money – or about the testing.

“It’s about running a school in the 21st century and providing kids with opportunities and what theyre gonna need to know to be successful,” he said.

But just because state exams are going online, that doesn’t mean pencils and papers will become a total thing of the past. At least in Monroe County, old-fashioned note and test taking still have a place in the classroom.

“It’s kind of a double edged sword in some respects – using technology, right?” Grow said. “It’s about being nimble and constantly learning. And I think that’s just kind of the path that lays ahead for all of us in education.”