Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the challenges that schools have had to face in the 2020-21 school year, the U.S. Department of Education announced last week that it is offering flexibility to the states in terms of student assessments and reporting systems for the year. It did not, however, authorize states to cancel assessments for the year as was considered a likely outcome.
The department announced that it will accept waiver requests for state accountability systems, including school identification and the 95 percent rule. The flexibility also extends to allowing for shortened tests, remote test administration, and/or delays in testing or extended testing windows.
However, schools will still be expected to publicly report data regarding learning, absenteeism and the access that students have to broadband and devices. The department has expressly said that data and annual assessments will still be required, and blanket waivers that would eliminate the testing requirement will be rejected.
Given the unique situation brought on by the pandemic, the PA Chamber has communicated to state lawmakers over the past year the need to measure student progress – or lack thereof – while also understanding that changes in student learning necessitated flexibility in the typical reporting requirements. In a letter to the General Assembly last fall, the PA Chamber and a coalition of stakeholders said, “We were disappointed but understood why administering annual assessments this past spring was unrealistic; however, we do not believe that another year should pass without objective, comparable information about student achievement derived from a state assessment. These data are critical for policymakers and education researchers, including those studying the pandemic’s impact on children. Assessments track individual student growth, and a multiyear gap risks compromising years of data.”
The U.S. Chamber and 46 education, civil rights, business and social justice organizations published a statement last week in support of the decision, while raising concerns about the department’s decision to allow states to waive the requirement to test at least 95 percent of the students. “The guidance issued prioritizes the collection of data for learning and we appreciate the focus on those students who have exited the system as a result of the pandemic,” U.S. Chamber Vice President of Education Policy Cheryl Oldham said. “Waiving Federal accountability requirements gives states permission to decouple consequences for failures beyond their control. But reliable statewide assessments are the flashlight we must have to understand what this pandemic and the digital divide have done to student learning. For this reason we are concerned with the Department’s decision to allow states to waive the requirement to test at least 95% of students. We fear this signals to the states that measuring learning loss among all students is not a priority. Understanding where every child is today is absolutely essential to planning for their future.”
The agency’s letter announcing its flexibility on student assessments is available here.