Standardized tests return, with some wiggle room
Experts disagree on how useful the data will be during the pandemic
Public school students must take standardized tests this year, the federal Education Department announced on Monday. But states can delay the exams a few months and skip penalties for poor scores.
Acting Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum wrote in a letter that tests will help schools identify where students have fallen behind during the pandemic so they can target interventions. “Parents need information on how their children are doing,” he said.
Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos let states skip the tests last year due to COVID-19 disruptions but resisted calls to repeat the move this spring. While this decision follows her lead, it allows states to push the assessments to the summer or fall or administer them online to prevent potential COVID-19 exposure. The department is also letting states exclude this year’s data from measurements of long-term progress and school rankings. They still must share state and local results with the public.
Rosenblum also instructed states to report how many students are chronically absent and how many have access to computers and home internet. During the pandemic, many students missed school and struggled to access online classes. Rep. Virginia Foxx, R-N.C., chief Republican on the House education committee, chided the Biden administration for burdening states with new reporting rules in return for flexibility.
Critics say requiring assessments this year will only cause students stress without providing useful information. Michigan Superintendent Michael Rice joined several other states in January to request waivers, writing that during COVID-19, “Test results will not be reliable, comparable, generalizable, or valid.”
But others argue that the exams will help schools decide where to begin helping students recover. Indiana in January proposed testing students while dropping accountability. “If nothing else, we have to set a baseline,” Indiana Republican Sen. Jeff Raatz told Chalkbeat. “Somewhere along the way we’ve got to begin to move forward.”
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