States move toward waiving standardized tests for 2020-21

As schools plan for the fall, state education departments and lawmakers are gearing up to suspend another round of federal and state standardized tests, saying instruction should take priority for the 2020-21 school year. 

On June 18, Georgia became one of the first states to seek an assessment waiver. Gov. Brian P. Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods jointly announced their decision to apply for suspension of standardized testing to the U.S. Department of Education. 

Continuing with high-stakes testing for the next school year, they said in a joint press release, would be “counterproductive.”

In anticipation of a return to in-person instruction this fall, we believe schools’ focus should be on remediation, growth, and the safety of students,” the statement said. “Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing would be a dollar taken away from the classroom.” 

In South Carolina, the state Senate approved a bill that would seek a waiver from all federal accountability reporting, as well as test suspension, “to help recoup extensive instruction time lost when our public schools closed” in spring. 

Texas also moved in a similar direction earlier this month, when state Rep. Dan Flynn announced a resolution seeking a waiver from Gov. Greg Abbott for state accountability ratings, adding that extended closures have historically negatively impacted students’ math and reading achievement. 

Similar efforts are making their way to top state officials in Michigan and Oklahoma after local superintendents and legislators expressed the need to waive testing and accountability for the next academic year.

In Oklahoma, Democratic state lawmakers sent a letter to the state’s superintendent shortly after Georgia’s decision was announced, hoping to follow in its footsteps. Rep. John Waldron, one of the representatives who sent the letter, said in a press release the next year should “focus on the culture of our schools, not testing outcomes.” 

Short-term uncertainty, long-term push

Whether the requests will be granted is still unclear. In Virginia, the state recently released guidance suggesting there are no plans to suspend assessments unless granted by the U.S. Department of Education. 

The U.S. Education Department told Education Dive it had “nothing new” to report regarding 2020-21 waivers, but it will “continue to work with state and local education leaders on the flexibilities and supports they might need next school year.”

Some representatives and educators who have announced their hopes for waivers have also suggested scaling back high-stakes testing in the long term, a movement that was building prior to the pandemic. 

Kemp and Woods, for example, said their waivers reflect potential long-term change. “These efforts are in line with our longstanding shared belief that assessment has a place and a purpose in education, but the current high-stakes testing regime is excessive,” they said. 

Georgia’s Bill 367, introduced in February, would reduce the number of state assessments and passed both chambers of its legislature Wednesday. 

And in response to Texas’ resolution seeking a 2020-21 waiver, Rep. Matt Krause alluded to his legislation seeking a move away from the state’s testing structure, saying he was “delighted” with any effort to restructure the system. “And I’ve often called for a revised accountability system, as the current one doesn’t truly gauge ISD [performance],” he said in a tweet, adding that was “especially true right now.” 

In May, the American Federation of Teachers joined the push, saying project-based assessments that emerged during closures “can be a far better assessment than any highstakes standardized test.” 

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