The US Department of Education announced Monday that schools will still be required to administer standardized tests for the 2020-2021 school year despite months of upheaval in which many students have failed to set foot. in a school building.
The decision was made without the leadership of Miguel Cardona, President Joe Biden’s candidate for education secretary, according to a spokesperson for the education department. Cardona has not yet been confirmed, leaving the department’s senior leadership, including Acting Education Secretary Phil Rosenfelt, to make a call amid urgent questions from states about whether to schedule exams.
While testing continues, the Biden administration provides significant flexibility for states on how to administer the exams. Schools will be able to provide tests remotely, they will be able to give the tests in summer or fall, or shorten the tests. The ministry is also urging states to seek waivers that would release them from some of the liability provisions related to testing, including one that requires 95% participation. No student should be brought to school just to take a test if they are not able to do so safely, the ministry has told principals of state schools.
The decision to continue testing aims to give schools more tools to assess how their students have performed during a year in which education has been transformed. The Department of Education encourages schools not to tie scores to grades or retention but to use them to shed light on the performance of different groups of students and to provide targeted support to help students achieve success. upgrade.
Some states will start administering tests as early as March. The ministry was pressed to make a decision on the matter, a spokesperson said, as planning for assessments often begins months before. Prior to the Education Department’s decision, nearly 30 states had already submitted waivers related to liability measures tests or assessments in general, and the Biden administration faced pressure to provide them with a response.
In March 2020, President Donald Trump’s Education Department authorized states to cancel standardized tests for the year as school closures began. In September, before Biden was elected president, then education secretary Betsy DeVos tells states to expect standardized testing this year.
The Biden administration’s decision was greeted with praise from most education stakeholders, who said the move would provide critical information to schools about learning loss and achievement gaps. The country’s two largest teacher unions, however, were more critical, focusing on the intrinsic value of these exams.
“While his plan provides the ability to test changes and deviations from accountability requirements, which is a start, it misses a huge opportunity to truly help our students by allowing for waivers and substitution, instead of ‘authentic assessments developed locally. which could be used by educators and parents as a basis for work this summer and next year, ”said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, in a written statement.
“Standardized tests have never been valid or reliable measures of what students know and are able to do, and they are particularly unreliable now. We need to ensure that our students who have been hit hardest during the pandemic – our black, brown, rural, Indigenous students, as well as those with special needs – receive the support they need, ”said the president. from the National Education Association, Becky Pringle.
Across the country, school administrators estimate how many of their students will withdraw from tests or fail to appear.
“We don’t know what kind of situation we’re going to have with students who don’t feel comfortable entering or refusing to enter,” said Ron Phipps, associate superintendent for data and school accountability. from Cumberland County to Fayetteville, North Carolina.
Although the district of Phipps is currently online only, it is moving to a hybrid schedule in March. Students who choose to continue studying remotely will be invited to come to the school for test days only. Phipps is relieved to know where the Biden administration is, he said, because he was concerned that states would be left in limbo, without having enough planning time to design tests that work for their students.
Aaron Spence, superintendent of public schools in Virginia Beach City, is disappointed with the administration’s decision. He questions the value of the data provided in testing this year whether it is difficult to compare with previous years. In a year already marked by trauma for many students and staff, he worries about how a big exam will affect student mental health. When her school offered end-of-semester tests in January, which students could only take in person, more students chose not to participate than in previous years.
“I wish they would reconsider,” Spence said of the Biden administration. “I think it will increase anxiety where we have the ability to reduce anxiety.”
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