Most New York City elementary and middle school students decided to skip this year’s state assessment tests after state education officials decided to make the tests optional due to the pandemic, according to data released Thursday.

Of the city’s public school students, 21.6% of kids in grades 3-8 took the English exam and 20.5% of students in grades 3-8 took the Math exam, the Department of Education said Thursday.

Federal law says that every student in New York is required to take math and English state assessment tests each year from third to eighth grade, unless they opt out. State tests were cancelled in 2020 because of the pandemic and New York officials asked the federal government for a waiver on this year’s tests as well.

That request was denied when the Biden Administration said in February that it expected states to resume standardized testing, in an effort to identify how much students have learned, or not, during the pandemic. But federal officials offered states flexibility in how and when they administered the tests. Tests could be shorter, and they did not have to be used to evaluate the performance of teachers or schools. In New York, the education department said offering tests remotely wasn’t fair or feasible so the tests were only given in-person this spring.

Facing the federal mandate, state officials decided to make this year’s tests optional instead and even reused questions from previous years’ tests, underscoring the difficulty of following the traditional testing model during the pandemic.

The city DOE said 63.8% of all students who took the English assessment this year received a proficient score, and 51.5% of all students who took the math assessment received a proficient score.

The demographics of NYC public school students who opted to take state assessment tests this year.

The results of this year’s tests should be considered against the upheaval of the pandemic, city officials said, pointing to the promise of a new program to tackle the effects of interrupted schooling.

“Our Academic Recovery Plan will continue to be our north star as we accelerate learning and expand supports for all students and, as we’ve said before, no student will be penalized for not taking the tests,” said Schools Chancellor Meisha Porter in a statement. “One thing is clear: our families each faced many different circumstances last school year and these results do not accurately reflect the diversity of New York City schools.”

The DOE said no student was penalized for skipping this year’s state tests but they will be back to normal next year. Whether these test scores will be used as part of applications for high school and middle school admissions is yet to be determined, a DOE spokesperson said Thursday.