- Taking advantage of flexibilities allowed by the U.S. Department of Education this school year, Ohio, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Tennessee and other states have moved to suspend school accountability report cards or waive or reduce the weight of certain accountability measures, like assessments, for the 2020-21 school year.
- While the National Assessment of Educational Progress has been postponed until 2022, state assessments are still continuing in many places with added flexibilities. States suspending report cards or putting in place flexibilities for accountability cited the need to have supports for struggling schools and students with the aid of assessment results, while detangling those results from penalties.
- The decisions come after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told states in September the Education Department would be open to rethinking assessments and accountability measures in the wake of ongoing COVID-19 disruptions.
At the start of the 2020-21 school year, some states hoped the U.S. Department of Education would grant another round of national assessment and accountability waivers due to the novel coronavirus pandemic. State leaders have expressed concerns that moving forward with standardized testing would be "counterproductive" or take away from much-needed instruction time and positive school culture.
However, in a letter sent to states in September, DeVos made it clear states would be expected to administer summative assessments this school year. She also encouraged state leaders to "rethink assessments," calling it the "perfect time" to do so, and suggested the department would be open to consider flexibilities for states' accountability metrics.
The accountability addenda deadline for states was previously set for February 2021. In November, leaders told K-12 Dive they expected other areas of accountability like school designations and timelines to also be impacted by the addenda, with previous designations rolling over one year and timelines shifting.
Among concerns influencing these decisions is a lack of consistent and complete data.
“So the question for some states is probably, 'How do we know if they’ve improved if we don’t have the same data to look at?'” Maria Harris, deputy superintendent of assessment and accountability for the Oklahoma State Department of Education, told K-12 Dive previously.
Even for interim assessments, which most states are administering this year to identify learning losses, testing experts have expressed the possibility of results being skewed.To mitigate that concern in standardized testing, some are hoping to administer state tests in person this year.
Still, schools face an uphill battle in reaching students who are either demotivated or not showing up. And state leaders seem to be taking that into consideration while making policy decisions around state report cards and accountability.
However, states previously told K-12 Dive they would be making assessment data and other performance information available to district leaders through secure portals or other means, hoping it will inform instruction.
“Our priority is to now provide schools with as much information as we can on how students may have been impacted when compared to grade-level expectations, with an emphasis on the impact to students most at risk of falling behind academically," said Joy Hofmeister, Oklahoma's state superintendent of public instruction, in a statement.
While states are making changes specific to the 2020-21 school year, it is possible for shifting attitudes toward high-stakes assessments and accountability to outlast the pandemic.
“[With COVID-19], our real focus is about how we can use assessment and accountability to drive instructional decisions in the classroom,” Lane Carr, Nebraska's state education department's director of accountability, told K-12 Dive in November. “That was always our vision pre-pandemic, and now it has to be [like that] this year — well why can’t it be that way all the time?”