Friday, September 17, 2021

DeVos plans not to grant testing waivers


US Education Secretary Betsy DeVos announced Thursday that the US Education Department doesn’t plan to issue waivers for standardized tests this year, as it did last year in response to the pandemic, Politico reports.

“If we fail to assess students, it will have a lasting effect for years to come,” the news site quoted her as writing. “Not only will vulnerable students fall behind, but we will be abandoning the important, bipartisan reforms of the past two decades at a critical moment.”

Indeed, the Every Student Succeeds Act was a bipartisan effort at the end of Barack Obama’s term to renew the No Child Left Behind Act that George W Bush signed at the beginning of his. The federal law calls for states to test students in math and reading every year in grades three through eight and once in high school and to test them in science once in elementary school, once in middle school, and once in high school.

The US Education Department granted blanket and automatic waivers last school year because the pandemic closed almost every school building in the country before tests could be administered last spring. As a result of those waivers, states will show a gap in student achievement data for the 2019-20 school year across all grades in all three subjects.

The decision to suspend testing requirements in March and April was the “right call” then, Ms DeVos wrote, “given the limited information available about the virus at the time and the need to stop its spread, as well as the practical realities limiting the administration of assessments.”

Reactions to the announcement were mostly positive from members of Congress and mostly negative from governors and teacher union leaders.

A statement from the Council of Chief State School Officers:

In this current environment, measuring student learning and identifying potential gaps is more important than ever. As chief state school officers work to prioritize the health and safety of students and to meet their academic, social, and mental health needs during this continued crisis, high-quality, relevant assessment tools will be one critical way to understand where students are when they return to school and how schools can best meet their needs as we move forward in the school year. We can only address the inequities in our education system, and the gaps that may have widened as a result of the pandemic, if we have accurate data on where students are, the strengths they have built, and the challenges they face.

From US Rep Bobby Scott, Democrat of Virginia, chair of the Education and Labor Comte:

There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic is having severe consequences for students’ growth and achievement, particularly for our most vulnerable students. We cannot begin to address these consequences, unless we fully understand them.

From Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers:

Instead of focusing on the supports our kids need to get back to school safely, or what she can do to help, her first missive to the field is to tell them she is maintaining high stakes testing. Of course accountability has a role, as does data, but right now educators and students are struggling with the daily realities of remote learning and returning to a potentially unsafe working environment.

From Gov Gretchen Whitmer, Democrat of Michigan:

This virus has had an unprecedented impact on our kids, and forcing them to take these assessments during a time when families everywhere are working around the clock to stay safe is cruel.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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