One year ago, worry about Covid-19 closed schools nationwide, forcing then-U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to allow all 50 states an unprecedented one-year waiver on federal requirements to manage state-level, end-of-year K -12 standardized tests.
A year later, with mass vaccinations bringing hope the pandemic might end someday soon, education officials in the state level are once more facing a decision: To test or otherwise to test?
The Biden administration is sending an indication it wants testing to proceed, even when inside a highly altered form.
In a letter to convey school chiefs, the acting assistant secretary at work of elementary and secondary education, Ian Rosenblum, said state accountability systems \”play an important role in advancing educational equity.\” He requested \”the maximum available statewide data to inform the targeting of resources and supports.\”
But Rosenblum also told state leaders the administration would give them flexibility \”based on the specific circumstances across or inside the state.\”
Millions of scholars remain from school buildings. Remote learning remains the norm in many districts. Some state chiefs say they remain dedicated to gathering students for testing this spring, several have said recently they are not so sure teachers should break the seal on 2021 tests.
When the Council of Chief State School Officers, or CCSSO, polled state-level testing directors late last year, the great majority said they're pushing ahead, said the group's deputy executive director of programs, Scott Norton.
\”States are, for the most part, looking to get the kids up there to accept test within the easiest way they can,\” he explained. \”They’re just doing the very best they can with the tests they've.\”
A handful of states are thinking about fully online assessments. Many more are altering their usual administration plans \”to attempt to have more kids into the test,\” Norton said. Those include a few innovative ideas, for example extending testing windows and adding testing sessions on nights and weekends inside a bid to lessen the pressure on schools. In many states, educators by law must get students to show up for in-school testing sessions.
In Texas, lawmakers have previously extended testing windows for that State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness, or STAAR, with plans to spend millions of dollars more post-2021 to transition for an almost entirely online system. State Education Commissioner Mike Morath has said schools this spring won't get traditional \”A -F ratings,\” as the pandemic \”has disrupted school operations in fundamental ways that have often been away from charge of our school leaders.\”
In Texas as elsewhere, educators will also be scouring non-school facilities looking for socially distanced testing venues. This spring, districts can offer STAAR tests at places like hotels, rec centers, or theaters. High schoolers that do not appear might not be in a position to graduate.
In Florida, state officials on February 15 said they'll give schools two extra weeks to manage Florida Standards Assessments. In an emergency order, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said the expanded testing windows would \”ensure that each student can be safely tested.\”
In Massachusetts, state Secretary of Education James Peyser in January said the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System testing window will actually be shortened this spring. Educators will require students in many grades only to take a area of the test in each subject, in what state officials are calling a \”session sampling approach.\” Other tests, such as the state's 9th-grade biology test, is going to be offered in June instead of February.
But a few key holdouts-including education officials in New York, California, Nj, Michigan, Georgia, and Sc, among others-have said they'll ask the us government for waivers from testing.
They would appear to possess a large amount of leverage to face up to or at least delay testing far into the fall, because the Biden administration is extremely unlikely to chop off funds to poor children in the middle of a pandemic.
In his February 22 letter, the U.S. Education Department's Rosenblum acknowledged the difficulties states face, saying they might administer shorter versions of tests, as Massachusetts is proposing, or extend testing windows \”to the best extent practicable,\” including moving test administration into summertime or even into the start of the 2021 -2022 schoolyear.
That might not satisfy the holdouts, such as New York Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr., that has said the tests \”cannot be safely, equitably, and fairly administered to students in schools over the state.\”
Testifying before state lawmakers in mid-February, Christine Burton, the superintendent of the Millburn, Nj, school district, suggested that the results of testing would not be a surprise: \”Isn't it obvious that there's likely to be a delay in what they have been able to learn?\” she asked. \”Does standardized testing students to reveal the most obvious pose a much greater detriment to students' mental health?\”
In Michigan, Superintendent Michael Rice has said the computer-based Michigan Student Test of Educational Progress, or M-STEP, cannot be administered fairly and safely while students stay at home. To begin with, he said, many don't have reliable Internet service or perhaps a quiet spot to have a high-stakes exam.
\”There's no way to manage, validly and reliably, state summative assessments this season,\” Rice told state lawmakers via teleconference in a joint House-Senate hearing in early February. He noted that, for those its bravado around state testing, the us government shelved plans to administer the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, this year, suggesting that the issue is certainly not simple.
\”If you can’t administer NAEP validly and reliably to some sample, it’s difficult to imagine the way we can administer and M-STEP validly and reliably to an entire student population,\” he explained.
The debate over whether or not to resume these legally required tests in lots of ways recreates the bigger one which has played out around assessment in the last 2 decades: teachers' groups are urging caution, while activists for low-income and disadvantaged students are pushing for testing to resume.
Scratch underneath the surface, however, and things get interesting.
DeVos in September warned states they shouldn't expect another waiver to postpone what have become longstanding, large-scale tests. But weeks later, the federal government itself did just that for NAEP, its own large-scale test, saying it might take a year off to permit \”conditions on the ground to stabilize.\”
Ironically, losing NAEP until 2022 has prompted a few accountability hawks to state it's now all the more important for schools to obtain outcomes of state-level tests. Meanwhile, a few leading conservatives have joined liberals in warning about both safety and usefulness of wide-ranging testing during a pandemic.
In the September 2021 letter, DeVos told state school chiefs that statewide assessments, \”are one of the most reliable tools available to allow us to know how children are performing in school.\” Parents, she said, should know not just how their kids are performing, but additionally how one school's performance comes even close to those of others.
Michigan's Rice said the tests \”shouldn’t function as the assessment tail that wags the instructional dog, appearing out of a pandemic.\” Instead, he explained, teachers ought to be given the opportunity to \”pour time into instruction, not pour the time into another assessment.\” They ought to have a tendency to the academic, social, and emotional needs of kids struggling with the pandemic.
In January, South Carolina State Superintendent Molly Spearman said giving students the tests would increase the stress of the unprecedented schoolyear.
\”I'm not against the gathering from the data,\” she told lawmakers throughout a remote hearing January 20. \”You've got to know where your kids are. But I think we all do have a big question to say, 'Does this pandemic, and every one of these circumstances, bring us to make a different decision early in the year as to how we assess our kids?' In my opinion it does.\”
A state House measure, which Spearman opposes, seeks to require the publication of faculty report cards for the 2021 -21 schoolyear, but allows districts to waive school-performance ratings. The Palmetto State Teachers Association has joined Spearman in opposing the measure. Patrick Kelly, an association district director, said time to manage statewide summative assessments \”is not throughout the moment of crisis. It's once the crisis ends, and we return nearer to normal.\”
Former Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, who as White House Domestic Policy Council director in 2001 helped forge the legislation that became No Child Left Behind, said in an interview that she's happy her home state of Texas is pushing ahead with plans to resume testing this spring.
\”Both business leaders and the civil rights community realize that whenever we don’t measure, minority and poor students get left out,\” she said, noting that Morath, Texas' education commissioner, loves to say, \”Teaching without testing is talking.\”
Texas' spring testing \”is going to take place, in-person,\” Spellings said. \”And they’ll get it done in ways that’s safe. I am talking about, if you can visit the grocery store, you need to be able to go and have a test safely.\”
A statewide survey last October showed that only about 1 / 2 of Texas' 5.5 million students were learning on campus, but guidance the state released in January requires that students in grades 3 through 12 show up in-person to take STAAR tests this spring.
The policy director at Georgetown University's Edunomics Lab, Chad Aldeman, said that while states should find a way to test students this spring, \”I also don’t think it’s a good idea to force kids to take the tests in-person if their schooling continues to be all remote this season. So my preferred solution will be a shorter, online test that may be administered virtually.\”
Another concern: pretty much every state will fail to meet a current federal threshold that requires 95 % of students to consider annual state tests. Most school districts, obviously, are can not have that many students to attend daily classes.
Actually, DeVos made it simple to bypass this requirement, streamlining the procedure to find accountability waivers, CCSSO's Norton said. \”We know most states are going to make the most of that,\” he said.
But even while states push for testing to resume, many accountability hawks admit the results pose problems of their own and in all likelihood shouldn't trigger the sorts of consequences they typically do for college students, schools, and educators.
In most states, graduation requirements along with other high-stakes consequences will almost certainly face opposition and is waived ultimately, Norton said. Most educators and lawmakers realize that this is a year like no other, and that the outcomes \”are probably going to be somewhat compromised. You don’t wish to put a large amount of pressure on those scores if you’re not necessarily sure how good they represent exactly what the kids really know and may do.\”
In Florida, lawmakers have already filed legislation to sever testing results from consequences for schools, teachers, and students.
Researchers for months have warned of dire consequences for kids who weren't in a position to attend class regularly. A recent analysis by McKinsey and Company predicted that students' learning loss might be \”substantial,\” particularly in math. It said students may likely lose five to nine months of learning after the 2021 -21 schoolyear, and that students of color will finish up 6 to 12 months behind their typical achievement levels.
\”It's bad,\” Spellings said. \”But we’re not going to deal with the problem rightly and effectively if we don’t know where we are and who needs resources and who needs intervention and so on. So, i believe, testing is absolutely necessary.\”
Like many, however, she agreed that the results shouldn't have the same consequences, at least temporarily.
Terra Wallin, associate director for P -12 accountability at The Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based group that advocates for low-income students, said \”time-limited, narrow flexibility\” is appropriate this spring.
\”We think it’s really essential that we have data, both to determine where individuals need additional supports, but also to see if you will find places that had promising results therefore we can learn from those places and figure out how we might use that continuing to move forward,\” she said.
\”We’ve seen a lot of research and estimates concerning the impacts of unfinished instruction,\” Wallin said. \”We know they’re likely to be worse for that students who already face inequities in use of diverse teachers, high-quality curriculum, grade-level content. But the best way we’re actually going to understand how much this crisis exacerbated inequities is actually to determine student learning. And there’s not another tool or system in position that can permit you to do this at scale across a situation.\”
Before President Biden asked him to become U.S. education secretary, Miguel Cardona, Connecticut's state school chief, established that he wanted districts to administer the state exams this spring, but the results shouldn't be accustomed to rate teachers, schools, or districts.
Cardona called annual state tests \”important guideposts to our promise of equity,\” saying the data are the most accurate tools available to track achievement regardless of race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, along with other indicators.
During his February 3 confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate's Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, Cardona signaled support for spring 2021 testing, telling lawmakers, \”If we do not assess where our students are as well as their level of performance, it will likely be difficult for us to provide targeted support and resource allocation in the manner that can best support the closing of the gaps that have been exacerbated due to this pandemic.\”
But Cardona also asserted if conditions prevent students from being in school, \”I don't think we need to be bringing students in only to check them.\”
He also told lawmakers decisions should be left as much as states, including if the results should matter in state accountability systems.
North Carolina's Senator Richard Burr, the ranking Republican around the committee, expressed support for extending DeVos' 2021 waivers, saying: \”While we do need to know how much educational harm has happened, I'm not sure the federal accountability system and existing state exams are the right thing within this moment.\”
Burr said he expected the committee to possess \”an adult conversation about academic testing\” for the 2021 -21 schoolyear. That included attorney at law about \”whether we have to pause for just one more year the accountability and testing requirements as we grapple using the pandemic.\”
Burr said he considered it a states' rights issue, instructing Cardona, if confirmed, not to \”impose a bunch of conditions on states seeking these waivers.\” He added, \”Some of the predecessors thought they could use the need for waivers to bully states into submission on some of their preferred policy objectives that weren't in the law. What the law states does not permit you to do that, and I hope you will respect those limitations.\”
By contrast, certainly one of Burr's key Democratic colleagues, Representative Bobby Scott of Virginia, who chairs the House Committee on Education and Labor, has said spring exams really should not be waived. \”I believe it is a bad idea to enter the next few months without knowing who's behind or how far behind,\” he told reporters at the begining of February. \”If you don't have any assessments, how do you know who needs help throughout the summer?\”
Unions, typically, have supported continued waivers. American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told Education Next that teachers need data about student achievement but suggested that testing students this spring could simply provide more proof points of worsening inequality. School districts which are wealthy enough to put in place social distancing and extra in-school learning spaces will be places where \”kids have done much better,\” she predicted. \”It’s hard to have a real analysis of those numbers for any kind of purpose this year.\”
If, out of the box likely, the tests do move forward in many states, The Education Trust's Wallin said families should get ready for harsh results. The data, she said, may offer stark contrasts between white students and students of color, as well as between students from high- and low-income families. \”We have real concerns the data is likely to reveal that there has been drops or that there are larger gaps than existed before. We still think that’s worth knowing, and it’s worth giving parents and families some kind of here is how their student is progressing, rather than go two full years without getting any information of quality, or that’s consistent.\”
She said the results may actually show that advantaged students, with more consistent access to instruction, did better in quarantine. The possibilities of \”the top rising and also the bottom heading down, I believe, is actually disconcerting,\” she said. \”And that’s where we want to see if that plays out. And frankly, that information is vital that you know whenever we think about driving resources continuing to move forward.\”
She advises that states not do what they usually do and take months to analyze the testing results. Rather, she said, they ought to act around the data as quickly as possible.
\”Frankly, it must inform how to approach summer,\” she said. \”Let’s hope for an ideal world where some students will get in-person instruction or perhaps continue distance education within the summer to help make up some of the time that they’ve lost. But when we don’t have the assessment data over time to do that, it loses a number of its value.\”
Whether states can use the information they get to make a difference remains a wide open question.
Michigan's Rice told lawmakers in February that the state's M-STEPs are \”postmortem tests\” that will not be useful to determine which ought to be done, for example, with students this summer. \”By the time (the scores) return, in aggregate, your kids has progressed to the following grade. They’re not helpful the way we would like tests to be helpful in education, for quick determinations of where kids are and quick movements of instruction to address those needs.\”
He faced resistance from Republican lawmakers-one of them, Representative Pamela Hornberger, who represents an area in eastern Michigan, said she was disturbed by Rice's \”advocacy for which I'd call a lack of accountability.\”
\”We have a whole group of parents and students and families across our communities, across our state, that are really struggling right now to understand why they should keep their kids in public places education,\” Hornberger said. \”And it is a difficult sell. They feel like they’ve been shortchanged.\”
Rice noted that Michigan still intends to administer less-invasive benchmark tests that state lawmakers have mandated. The benchmark \”dipstick\” tests will give educators a feeling of \”roughly where kids were coming out of a pandemic.\”
That, he explained, can give teachers exactly the information they have to recalibrate instruction going forward.
\”Benchmarks are critical,\” Rice said. \”States summatives? Not so much, in a pandemic.\”