States still need to administer summative assessments this school year but should consider allowable flexibilities — such as shortened versions of tests, remote administration and extended testing windows — even into the 2021-22 school year, according to guidance released Monday by the U.S. Department of Education.
The guidance also said the department will consider state waivers for accountability and school identification requirements. That flexibility could include adjustments to academic achievement indicators to account for testing participation rates that fall below 95%.
The department said the intent of the flexibilities "is to focus on assessments to provide information to parents, educators, and the public about student performance and to help target resources and supports," and that it won't be welcoming blanket waivers.
States must still do all they can to measure student learning levels so schools can make progress in advancing educational equity, identifying student needs and targeting resources for interventions, the department said in a letter addressed to chief state school officers.
In what it calls “significant flexibility,” the department is encouraging states to consider waivers that would not require that calculation of progress toward long-term goals and measurements of interim progress or indicators. A waiver also would allow states to forgo the requirement to implement and report results of its accountability system. States would still need to maintain all state and local report card requirements and disaggregate data by student groups. However, reporting related to accountability, like school ratings, may not be required.
Under a waiver, states would also not be required to identify schools for comprehensive support and improvement, targeted support and improvement, and additional targeted support and improvement. States that ask for and receive accountability waivers would still need to support previously identified schools during the 2021-22 school year, resume school identification in the fall of 2022 and ensure transparency to the public.
Regarding flexibility for the administration of assessments, the department specifically acknowledged the difficulty English learner programs were having in conducting assessments for students who are not regularly learning on campuses. One of the flexibilities the department is offering is for states to extend testing windows even into the summer and beginning of next school year.
While statewide summative assessments are a vital part of promoting educational equity, schools are also working to keep students and staff safe and address the immediate issues of students’ social, emotional and academic progress, the department said.
“We do not believe that if there are places where students are unable to attend school safely in person because of the pandemic that they should be brought into school buildings for the sole purpose of taking a test,” the guidance said.
The guidance comes more than halfway through a school year that has challenged educators in significant ways. The Education Department waived all assessment and accountability requirements last year as the pandemic emerged and as widespread school closures occurred. Many assessment leaders were hopeful for specific information to guide this year’s assessment cycle.
Several groups praised the guidance, saying it strikes a balance of stressing the need to measure student learning during the public health crisis and acknowledging the difficulty some communities face in reliably administering in-person assessments during the pandemic.
The Council of Chief State School Officers, in a statement from CEO Carissa Moffat Miller, said it appreciated the department’s flexibilities and "common-sense solution," including the offer to work with individual states on their unique circumstances.
The National Center for Learning Disabilities said it too appreciated the assessment flexibilities, but emphasized the value of the information the assessments yield.
“For the past 20 years, statewide assessments have provided the only data showing how students with disabilities are performing compared to their grade-level peers,” the NCLD statement said. “Importantly, today’s guidance encourages states to meet their obligation under federal law and administer statewide summative tests as best they can during this time and offers support to those states who cannot do so.”
In a survey released Monday, the National Parent Teacher Association said 52% of parent respondents favor statewide assessments this year as a way to measure the impact of the pandemic on student learning. The survey also found 69% of respondents said the test results should not affect student grades or promotion to the next grade level, and 51% said the results should not be used to evaluate teachers.