Ed Dept official: Don’t expect testing waivers this year

Dive Brief:

  • Jim Blew, assistant secretary for the U.S. Department of Education, recently suggested states should not expect standardized testing waivers for the 2020-21 school year, Chalkbeat reports. Waivers from state testing requirements were previously offered during the spring due to coronavirus-related school closures.
  • Merrie Najimy, president of the Massachusetts Teachers Association, argues, however, that standardized testing in the upcoming school year will pull teachers away from providing for students’ social-emotional needs, which have been emphasized during the closures. The sentiment is echoed by education leaders in other states who say the tests would take time and money from helping students heal and catch up on learning. 
  • Those who support reinstating standardized testing this year say assessments are critical to understand expanded inequities and where students stand after remote learning, arguing the data can inform policy decisions, guide teachers in their instruction, and help parents understand their children’s performance. 

Dive Insight:

Prior to Blew’s remarks, some states had already started seeking assessment waivers for the upcoming school year. On June 18, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods announced they would seek a standardized testing waiver, saying high-stakes testing would be “counterproductive.” South Carolina, Texas, Oklahoma and Michigan are among states that made similar pushes. 

Recent recommendations by the NWEA, a nonprofit assessment provider, include suggestions to use two years of assessment data to measure student growth rather than a single year and to rethink how assessments are used and implemented overall. The association also suggested the U.S. Department of Education should change tests to reflect the new role of distance and hybrid learning, and provide targeted flexibilities in accountability for states rather than blanket testing waivers. 

When schools closed last spring, 90% of superintendents said they wanted flexibility on assessments, according to a survey by AASA, The School Superintendents Association. Superintendents surveyed also sought flexibility on accountability, reporting requirements, maintenance of effort and chronic absenteeism.

Near the end of April, at least seven states waived their requirements for teacher evaluations; a minimum of six states waived other requirements, such as the use of student growth data in evaluations; and at least eight states issued flexibility or guidance for school districts. By the end of the school year, the U.S. Department of Education had excused all states and the District of Columbia from testing requirements.

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