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States will have to administer annual standardized performance exams to students by 2021, but they may change or delay exams, the U.S. Department of Education said Monday.
In a letter to state education leaders, acting assistant education secretary Ian Rosenblum wrote that the Biden administration will not consider “blanket exceptions to assessments” this year.
Under federal law, states must administer annual exams in key subjects, including reading and math to students in third to eighth grade and once in high school. The results of these exams can be used to judge schools and sometimes also teachers on their performance and they can also trigger improvement efforts.
The requirement to administer the state exam was dropped by former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos in the spring of 2020, when most U.S. schools closed down as a result of COVID-19.
The new guidance from the Biden administration comes before its candidate for education secretary, Miguel Cardona, has been confirmed. During his confirmation hearing in early February, Cardona did not say whether the federally required exams should be waived again this year. He said it was important to assess student progress, but that schools probably should not bring students back in person just to administer an exam.
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States can decide whether to shorten the annual exams, administer them externally, or delay giving them for summer or fall, the new guide says. Schools are also not held accountable for the results of how students perform.
“We certainly do not believe that if there are places where students are unable to go safely to school personally due to the pandemic, that they should be brought into school buildings for the sole purpose of taking a test,” Rosenblum wrote.
The issue of standardized testing has divided the educational community, and this policy decision was no exception.
The announcement included a “frustrating turnaround” for the administration following a series of successes in supporting children through the pandemic, said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the nation’s largest teachers’ association.
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“As classroom educators, we have always known that standardized tests are not the best way to measure a child’s development, nor do they help children or inform best practice for teaching and learning,” she wrote in the statement. “This is especially true in these unprecedented times, where both students and teachers rework the school experience under the most unlikely of circumstances.”
But Chief Executive Officer Carissa Moffat Miller said she supported the federal claim, writing in a statement Monday that the statement “recognizes the real, varied challenges that teachers, students and families face across the country.”
“State education leaders and the CCSSO value deep assessment as a tool to know where students are academically, identify inequalities and inform decision-making, including ensuring that students receive the support they need,” she added.
The National Parents-Teacher Association published a survey Monday that found that 52% of parents surveyed preferred the end-of-year test in the spring “to measure the pandemic’s impact on student learning.”
Performance tests are usually administered to students in the spring. They provide “a clearer picture of where children are academically, and help equip parents to speak effectively for their child’s learning,” said PTA leader Leslie Boggs.
“As emphasized by the results of the study, both parents and educators need meaningful data on student learning and progress” to tailor learning, she added.
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