In one three-week period, a pandemic has completely changed the national landscape on assessment.
Every single state has won permission to skip the statewide standardized tests that are required by federal law, something that hasn’t happened since 1994, when the federal government first required states to test students’ achievement.
As of March 31, the U.S. Department of Education had granted waivers to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education. Those waivers allow those jurisdictions to ignore the requirement in the Every Student Succeeds Act, the federal law, to test all of their students, in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Schools are required to administer tests to students in those grades annually in math and English/language arts, and periodically in science.
States started worrying about testing as they started closing schools, for a couple of weeks at first, and then longer. In many cases states have extended those closures the rest of the school year. The U.S. Department of Education said in guidance on March 12 that it would consider “targeted” waivers from testing requirements.
But within eight days, it became clear that targeted test-skipping wasn’t going to help all the schools that would need help meeting that requirement. On March 20, the federal education department offered offered states a quick and easy way to apply for test forgiveness. And by March 31, every state had applied and won that permission.
The department is referring to the waiver approvals as “initial” approvals, since they went through that quick-and-easy process. But there isn’t anything more states must do to gain full, final approval. The department recognized that states needed fast responses so they could start moving forward with their no-testing plans. All that’s left is for the department to send formal approval letters to the states.
In most people’s minds, standardized testing began with the No Child Left Behind Act, the 2001 authorization of the federal education law, the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But testing was actually first required by the previous authorization of that law, the 1994 Improving America’s Schools Act.
So what will schools do in a year without test scores? And what happens to all of the accountability requirements they are used for?
The department does not expect states to collect any other data that might be a proxy for achievement. When it comes to accountability determinations, the department has waived those as well, and told states they should continue with the same school identification categories next year.
The coronavirus aid package President Donald Trump signed into law last week includes a streamlined, targeted waiver process that would allow the U.S. Department of Education to relieve states of mandates on publicly reporting various indicators under their accountability systems.
Essentially, states could get waivers to freeze in place their schools identified for improvement. No schools would be added to the list, and no schools would be removed from the list for the 2020-21 school year, under this expedited waiver process.
One odd twist in the shifting testing landscape, though: States have won waivers to skip federally mandated statewide tests. Some states still have statewide tests that aren’t required by federal law, such as New York State’s Regents exams, and in those cases, states must decide whether they’re keeping or dumping those tests. In some states, like Ohio, skipping tests requires passage of a state law, regardless of any federal waiver.
Groups like the Council of Chief State School Officers had pushed for the testing waivers. Executive Director Carissa Moffat Miller praised the Education Department’s speedy work Wednesday.
Thank you to @usedgov for approving ALL states’ assessment waiver requests! The quick work on this is a huge help to states focused on making sure children are fed, setting up distance learning, and keeping our communities safe. @CCSSO
— Carissa Miller (@CMoffatMiller) April 1, 2020