Dive Brief:

  • U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced in a press release issued Friday that the Department of Education will grant waivers to any states unable to assess students due to ongoing coronavirus closures during the 2019-20 school year.
  • The department is streamlining the state application process to waive assessments, accountability and school identification, and reporting requirements under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965​Any state receiving a one-year assessment waiver could also receive a waiver for including testing data in statewide accountability systems.
  •  Nearly all states have closed schools, and at least one (Kansas) announced closures through the end of the school year.​

Dive Brief:

“Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations,” DeVos said in the press release. “Neither students nor teachers need to be focused on high-stakes tests during this difficult time. Students are simply too unlikely to be able to perform their best in this environment.”

The department said it will “will accept, process, and approve any appropriate waiver request” and respond in one business day to a states that use a waiver request form to provide necessary information.

The announcement builds on earlier flexibilities provided by the department. Last week, it said it would consider waiving for states the 95% assessment participation rate required under ESEA (most recently reauthorized as the Every Student Succeeds Act), which is factored into academic achievement calculations, in addition to excluding chronic absenteeism rates from accountability reports.

“With many schools closed due to the virus, the Department of Education will not enforce standardized testing requirements, very importantly, for students in elementary through high school for the current year,” President Donald Trump said in a press briefing Friday. “They’ve been through a lot. They’ve been going back and forth — schools open, schools not open.”

The department said it is speaking with states to identify any additional needed flexibilities and is also coordinating with Congress to expand the department’s power to provide those flexibilities.

Congress is actively working on providing additional waiver powers to DeVos. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) introduced Thursday The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, which would give the education secretary ​emergency powers to waive states’ K-12 educational requirements under ESSA.

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