The Biden administration announced on Monday that state education departments will have flexibility over standardized tests this year, but will not have broad powers to cancel those exams.
The highly anticipated policy move is a reversal by the Trump administration, which largely allowed districts to cancel standardized testing last year, as the pandemic prompted widespread shifts towards distance learning.
This year, the Ministry of Education “will not invite[e] general waivers of assessments, “said Ian Rosenblum, the acting assistant secretary for education, in a three-page letter to state education officials. Instead, the department will propose changes and alternatives to annual standardized tests, including postponing exams until summer or dropping out, administering tests remotely and offering shortened versions.
“There is an urgent need to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning,” Rosenblum said in the letter. “We do know, however, that some schools and school districts may face circumstances in which they are not able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices. . “
Standardized testing in the aftermath of the pandemic has become a hot issue among education stakeholders. While many education advocates argue that understanding how distance learning has impacted student achievement is imperative, other groups, including the nation’s largest teacher unions, say administering exams in the context of a pandemic places an undue burden on students and faculty.
About half of parents prefer standardized tests this spring to “measure the impact of the pandemic on student learning,” according to a new survey from the National PTA. About a quarter were opposed and the rest were neutral or uncertain. Among Hispanic families, exam support rose to 57%, according to the survey.
Teacher unions were less supportive. In a statement, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teachers’ union, said the Biden administration’s plan “is missing a huge opportunity to really help our students” and suggested instead “authentic locally developed assessments that could be used by educators and parents as a basis for work this summer and next year.”
In a statement to CBS News, Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the largest education union in the United States, urged states to “submit a request to suspend the ranking of high-stakes schools” and ask the Department of Education to allow them to “Tailor assessments that can actually determine where students are and help design an educational experience that fully meets their academic, social and emotional needs.”