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States must resume their annual standardized tests in math and English language arts this spring, the Biden administration confirmed on Monday.
States are required to administer annual tests in reading and math for students in grades 3-8 and once in high school under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. But the U.S. Department of Education waived federal testing requirements after schools closed for in-person instruction in March 2020 due to the pandemic. Until Monday, it’s been unclear exactly where the new administration stands and whether they would offer testing waivers as many school districts continue to operate with distance learning.
The majority of members of the California State Board of Education said at a January meeting they were in favor of a waiver, and education officials in several other states have similarly pushed for alternatives to this year’s tests.
The state board did not vote on the issue of waivers at the meeting in January, but it was discussed at length and nine out of 11 members said they would support a waiver if it became an option. Board President Linda Darling-Hammond did not publicly share a specific stance. However, a report she authored in October expressed the need for schools during the pandemic to avoid “overtesting” and emphasize shorter, more frequent assessments that teachers can quickly use to inform instruction, known as formative assessments, over high-level end-of-the-year exams that are primarily used for holding districts accountable for learning, known as summative assessments.
While states do have to offer tests, new options will be allowed this year to create more flexible options for teachers and schools. Those options include offering shorter versions of the standardized tests, extending the test-taking window and allowing for at-home test administration when feasible.
“State assessment and accountability systems play an important role in advancing educational equity. At the same time, it is clear that the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-21 school year so that states can respond to the unique circumstances they are facing; keep students, staff, and their families safe; and maintain their immediate focus on supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development,” Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant education secretary, said in a letter to state education leaders.
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