The Dilemma Between Testing Dates and Religious Holidays

For the past couple of years, the New York State Exams have been administered during Eid following Stuyvesant not providing a “No Testing Day” the day after a religious holiday.

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Religious holidays are more than just a day off. For many students, they are a time for reconnection, revaluation, and celebration with their loved ones. It is a personal time that reflects the importance of prioritizing a special time over academic pressure. The NYC Public School calendar accounts for some of these holidays throughout the school year. Their policy states that some non-public holidays are observed but requires that schools be open on days immediately preceding and following each holiday.  However, a number of these holidays require longer days off than what is appointed by the New York State Education Department (NYSED), such as Diwali (five days), Eid-Al Fitr (three days), Eid-Al Adha (three days), and more. For example, Vesak is celebrated by Buddhists on the full moon in May. Though it is considered by many to be the most significant Buddhist holiday, it is not accounted for as a day off in the NYSED calendar. 

This calendar is released before the school year begins, with predetermined dates for state exams as well. In the past, many Muslim students from grades three to eight have had to take state exams during Ramadan, the day before or after Eid, and even on the day of Eid. The choice to administer this year’s English Language Arts (ELA) State Exam on the day directly after Eid was disrespectful to an integral holiday for numerous students in the school system. 

Even within Stuyvesant, students face the same issue. After the grueling month of fasting, students were looking forward to taking time to celebrate Eid and be with family the upcoming Wednesday. However, Stuyvesant did not provide a “No Testing Day” the day after Eid—a religious holiday. 

The NYSED calendar’s schedule for religious holidays would conflict with the current practice of ending the school year around the typical end of June if accounting for the length of every religious holiday. As an estimation, in order to account for the complete length of religious holidays such as Passover and Eid, the school year would likely have to end in July. Though the school year could begin earlier instead, this would require negotiations with the United Federation of Teachers since teachers are contractually obligated to begin teaching after Labor Day. Thus, to some extent, it is justifiable why students are not given all three days off during holidays such as Eid. However, there are aspects that are simply inexcusable, such as state exam dates. The day of Eid is identified by the sighting of the crescent moon, which marks the start of Shawwal, the end of the Islamic lunar (Hijri) calendar. As a result, the day when Eid starts varies every year. Though Eid is not a consistent holiday repeating on the same day every year, it has been accurately determined by the NYSED for the past couple of years, thanks to advanced dating technology. Eid after Ramadan—Eid-Al Fitr—is essentially a reward after a long month of fasting. Eid is intended to be a day-and-night long celebration for three continuous days, and it is highly discouraged for Muslims to stress or get upset about anything during these days. My family had to end our Eid night early because my brother had to take his state exam the following day. Four of my cousins had to leave as early as six in the evening to head home as well. Thus, if not providing the full three days off, administering a mandatory statewide exam on a day that is still Eid should be out of the question. 

The State Education Department did take action in June 2022 to increase state exam flexibility by allowing students to begin computer-based testing for the Mathematics, ELA, and Science state exams due to pushback from Muslim families regarding testing on Eid. However, the dates when the computer-based testing is administered still fall during Ramadan and on Eid. This year, the window for all three exams was from April 8 to May 17 for computer-based testing. For paper-based exams, dates were set through April 10 to April 12 for ELA, which falls during the three days of Eid. It is important to note that computer-based testing has not yet been implemented throughout all schools. Therefore, numerous Muslims taking the ELA state exams this year had to end their Eid celebrations early nonetheless. 

After Eid, there wasn’t a “No Testing Day,” permitting exams in math, music, and art classes. Though teachers are obligated to announce exams a week before to ensure students have enough time to study, the week before Eid falls in the special last 10 days of Ramadan, which are dedicated to long hours of worship and prayer far into the hours of the night. Preparations for Eid and other familial duties for the awaited holiday hinder a student’s ability to study for an exam. Furthermore, by assigning an exam the day after Eid, students are burdened with worry about their test. Muslim students are also disadvantaged by not being able to study as much as they normally could. Stuyvesant not providing a “No Testing Day” for students a day after a religious holiday is unfair to a large part of its student body. Freshman Noshin Torsa spoke about her experience with having an exam the day after Eid, noting, “I don’t expect them to give all three days off because they don’t do that with other holidays, but the least they could do is make the next day a no testing day.” She alludes to how “[she] was very frustrated and kind of disappointed in the teachers [who] thought of Eid as a study day and decided to give any sort of exam the next day.” In line with Torsa’s statements, when some teachers were met with these concerns, they allowed extensions on testing and other assignments. Though not every teacher may provide extensions, those that do should serve as a model that more teachers should follow. 

For numerous students across the state, there are special days reserved for one’s own religious needs. While acknowledging that the New York City school system adheres to a diverse student body and has worked on making their state testing system more flexible, there is still room for improvement. Within the walls of Stuyvesant, not providing a “No Testing Day” for students after a religious holiday remains unfair to its Muslim body. Though the dilemma between testing dates and religious holidays prevails, taking further steps to acknowledge the issue will help foster an environment that further respects and celebrates religious diversity.