States will not receive a waiver from standardized assessment tests this year, but the U.S. Department of Education threw them a lifeline on how they can conduct them.
In denying waivers for testing, Assistant U.S. Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum wrote state assessments are important in identifying student needs and targeting resources to address them — even amid the coronavirus pandemic. He also wrote states may need flexibility in administering the tests, depending on circumstances.
Rosenblum added data from the tests should be a used as a source of information for parents and educators to target resources and support, rather than for accountability purposes this year.
“We also recognize that at a time when everything in our education system is different,” Rosenblum wrote, “there need to be different ways that states can administer state tests like moving them to the fall so that precious in-person learning time this year can be spent on instruction. Balancing these priorities is the best approach.”
State Public Education Department Secretary Ryan Stewart said Tuesday that New Mexico made a request Feb. 17 to the U.S. Education Department to waive the requirement that 95 percent of all students participate in math and reading assessments, which take place in the spring. Stewart added his department proposed to test a representative sample of students that will give it information on where they are academically, and the department could receive a response from federal officials in two to three weeks.
“Given the nature of the pandemic, that requirement is the biggest challenge we face because we have limited numbers of students in buildings at a time and we have some districts that are completely remote,” Stewart said.
A news release states some of the recommendations the federal government made included extending the testing window into the summer or fall, giving assessments remotely or shortening them to make testing more feasible.
Santa Fe Public Schools Superintendent Veronica García said that should the state Public Education Department’s request be granted, the district already has submitted preliminary numbers of how many students it estimates will elect to take the test. The alternative, however, could make for a messy adjustment of the district’s testing plans.
García said trying to accommodate 95 percent of students in grades 3-8, plus 11th-graders, would be difficult, especially considering the district must still adhere to Public Education Department COVID-19 guidelines.
“It would get more complex, but it would be something we can overcome,” she said.
Santa Fe Public Schools administered its own formative assessments at the beginning and in the middle of the school year so parents could gauge how their child was doing, García said.
Even if the state’s request is approved, she cautioned against comparing results to other districts because the number of students opting to take the test will vary. She added smaller districts are better able to accommodate more students because of their size.
“We’re always compared to other districts,” García said. “If we’re all not doing the same thing, it can give skewed information results, in my opinion.”
García said waiting until the summer or fall might be an acceptable alternative if all students are required to take the test because it gives districts time to work on plans and more students might be allowed into the classroom if the pandemic continues to wane. It also could give a more accurate assessment of where students are in their learning.
“If we’re all doing the same thing under the same conditions, then I think you have a little more comparability,” García said. “Even at that, it is going to be skewed because some school districts had more in-person instruction than others. It would still be better than a hodgepodge of variables that would make comparisons difficult.”