- Leading education groups and civil rights organizations sent a letter Thursday to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona urging the U.S. Department of Education to share its plans for resuming state assessment and school improvement accountability systems required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, which were paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
- "The pandemic wreaked havoc on assessment systems," the groups — which include the National Parents Union, Center for American Progress and The Education Trust — wrote. Despite needing data to identify and support low-performing schools, 2019-20 data is missing, and 2020-21 data will be incomplete, signatories said. "Therefore, we firmly believe the time for waivers of assessment from ESSA requirements is over."
- However, the groups also asked the Biden administration to consider making tests "less burdensome and more useful to educators and families alike."
Shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic closed schools in March 2020, former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos announced blanket waivers for states unable to administer summative assessments and their related accountability measures. A year into the pandemic and after the Education Department transitioned to the Biden administration, current Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona told states assessments would resume, albeit on a different and relaxed timeline because "it is urgent to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning," and state assessments "play an important role in advancing educational equity."
Cardona said while states would be required to administer tests for 2020-21, they would be provided additional flexibilities, resulting in lower stakes tied to assessments from the waived accountability metrics and school identification requirements.
At the time, the administration said states were required to continue their support for schools already identified as needing them and must resume low-performing school identification in fall 2022.
However, education groups are requesting that accountability and identification resume earlier than previously announced, despite schools struggling to reopen and stay open with the surge of the delta variant.
"As schools continue to face disruption and uncertainty, the value of data on student learning grows more important, not less," said Jim Cowen, executive director of the Collaborative for Student Success, in an email. The organization was among groups that signed the letter.
"We believe that without actionable data on student learning, schools and districts will be limited in their ability to target waves of relief funding where it’s needed most, build out accelerated learning programs in the most effective ways, and to understand the impact of future disruptions on learning," he said, adding that assessments and accountability are "equity guardrails for students and families."
Cowen pointed to states that were able to get high participation rates on summative tests — including Texas (87%), Indiana (97%), Florida (93%), Tennessee (95%) and Louisiana (97.5%) — as proof others could do the same.
"Our organizations understand the need for flexibility for schools during this time, particularly from requirements that could be punitive when schools and districts ultimately need increased support," Cowen added. "However, we believe strong systems of assessment and associated accountability measures can empower schools and districts to identify where the most significant challenges exist and develop sound plans to meet them head on."