In April, 2020 we reported that U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced that the department would be offering schools an option to bypass standardized testing for the 2019-2020 academic year as they cope with the impact of the health crisis. At the time, DeVos said that “Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn. Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations,” DeVos said. “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.”
That was then, this is now. The April 2020 standardized testing hiatus was a one-year-only arrangement for school year 2019-2020. Michael Stratford, writing for Politico on September 3, 2020, reports that “the Trump administration [now] plans to enforce federal standardized testing requirements for K-12 schools despite the pandemic.” Secretary DeVos “told state school chiefs in a letter that they should not expect the Education Department to again waive federal testing requirements as it did this spring amid sudden school closures.” (https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/03/devos-enforce-school-testing-mandates-408626)
THE SCHOOL YEAR 2020-2021 TESTING REQUIREMENTS
Secretary DeVos wrote, in a September 3, 2020 letter, addressed to all Chief School Officers, that the school-at-home experience in the spring of 2020 was particularly disruptive and that “Research shows that school closures this past spring disproportionately affected the most vulnerable students, widening disparities in achievement for low-income students, minority students, and students with disabilities. Almost every student experienced some level of disruption.”
Ms. DeVos further explained that “It is now our expectation that states will, in the interest of students, administer summative assessments during the 2020-2021 school year, consistent with the requirements of the law and following the guidance of local health officials. As a result, you should not anticipate such waivers being granted again.” (https://static.politico.com/c1/2d/5073bcb847c988afef9355bc3e08/secretary-devos-letter-to-cssos-09-03-2020-1.pdf.pdf)
Secretary DeVos provided a to-the-point five line closing that summarized the intentions of the U.S. Department of Education: “In closing, let’s remember that Americans are resourceful people and can accomplish great things even during the most challenging of times. Just as doctors, nurses, police officers, grocery clerks and other essential workers have demonstrated their resolve, now is our opportunity to show that same spirit is present in America’s education leaders as we work to safely reopen schools and to successfully educate our nation’s children.”
RESPONSE FROM STATES, SCHOOLS AND PARENTS
The secretary’s ruling was received by school districts and state governments in varying ways. Richard Woods, superintendent of Georgia public schools said that the decision “shows a complete disconnect with the realities of the classroom, and will be a detriment to public education.” (https://www.politico.com/news/2020/09/03/devos-enforce-school-testing-mandates-408626 )
The September 3 issue of the online magazine Politico, reported that “Some governors, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and other state officials had asked the Education Department to consider suspending standardized tests during the coming 2020-21 school year, citing ongoing disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic and budget cuts.” .” Georgia was the first state to request suspension of testing for the coming school year (https://www.washingtonpost.com/).
Jennifer Chambers, writing for the Detroit News on July 1, 2020 reported that Michigan schools had also requested a federal waiver from state assessments for the 2020-21 school year. Chambers wrote that the “Michigan State Board president Casandra Ulbrich and state superintendent Michael Rice sent U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos a letter …saying many students are struggling with the long absence from school due to COVID-19.” President Ulbrich further stated that “The long absence from in-person instruction will present challenges for many students as they return to class. The focus should be on tending to children’s immediate needs: physical, socioemotional and academic.”
Florida parent Kelly Spezzano circulated a petition requesting that Florida standardized testing be suspended for the 2020/2021 school year. In part, her letter said:
“As a public school parent, I would like to address the matter of standardized testing for the upcoming school year. Schools are in the process of adapting to the guidelines put forth by the Department of Education. As we return to school, we are far more concerned about the physical and emotional well being of students rather than their standardized test scores. For students, families, and teachers across Florida, I ask that you apply for a waiver to suspend standardized testing for the 2020-2021 school year.”
Standardized testing is generally conducted in the spring of each school year. Barring potential responses to petitions and requests from school boards, states and parents, if Republicans retain the current presidency, Secretary DeVos’ order will likely remain in place and standardized testing will be required in the spring of 2021. If Democrats gain the presidency, it is unclear what changes could potentially occur.
So – STAY TUNED! We’ll continue to follow this topic and will report any news or changes to current positions as soon as information becomes available.
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