April Assessment Update: Using Data to Support Students During COVID-19 Recovery

April Assessment Update: Using Data to Support Students During COVID-19 Recovery

The Data Quality Campaign began sharing updates on the state of 2021 assessments last year and we’ll continue to share periodic updates on the assessment conversation we’re seeing. Check DQC’s blog for future updates.

The Biden administration says states must administer 2021 summative assessments—but only where local conditions permit. In a flurry of responses this week, the Department of Education approved three state requests for assessment waivers: Colorado and Oregon can scale back testing to one subject per grade; DC can cancel its assessment altogether. In his responses, Acting Assistant Secretary Ian Rosenblum underlined the impact of the pandemic in each respective state and the number of students still in hybrid or remote learning environments. Five other states (Georgia, New York, Michigan, Montana, and South Carolina) were denied requests to cancel statewide testing because they did not demonstrate specific circumstances that prevent them from testing.

After conflicting reports this week, Rosenblum said in a letter to California state leaders that the Department would not require a waiver as long as California administered assessments in all districts except those where testing was not viable due to the pandemic. Some states had already been planning as much: in New York, for example, state officials said that any districts still operating remotely would not have to administer assessments. Rosenblum also noted in a separate letter to Wisconsin that the Department may consider retroactive waivers—in other words, wait and see how this spring’s assessments go before making any further decisions.

Regarding accountability, there is widespread consensus that students and teachers should not be penalized for assessment results. At least 31 states have said they will seek federal accountability waivers (AL, AR, AZ, CA, CO, DC, FL, GA, ID, IL, IN, KY, MA, MD, MI, MN, MO, MS, NC, NJ, NM, NY, OH, OR, PA, RI, SC, TN, TX, WA, WY), and none will continue with accountability as usual. Beyond federal waivers, states like Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas have taken steps to ensure that this year’s assessment data will not be used for grade promotion, graduation requirements, or teacher evaluation.

As state leaders finalize assessment plans, many states are extending assessment windows or shortening tests. Most states will still administer tests this spring, but Maryland and Pennsylvania will let districts push assessments into the fall. Other states are shortening assessments to minimize impact on instructional time; Massachusetts recently announced plans to cut assessment time fully in half. Other states like New York have cancelled other assessments not required by federal law.

However, states are not pursuing remote testing as a viable option for this year’s assessments. Many state leaders have voiced concerns about the logistics and equity of remote assessments. Testing experts have also cautioned that differences in at-home administration conditions could impact the validity of assessment results. In Minnesota, legislators recently abandoned a plan to offer statewide tests remotely due to concerns about security and testing conditions.

Participation remains the biggest sticking point, and there is concern about large-scale opt out of assessments. Survey data shows that parents want information on their student’s learning—but parents still have reservations about burdening students and teachers in an already challenging year. The lack of remote testing options has exacerbated this issue, as many students are still learning online and may not feel comfortable testing in person. Opponents in states including Tennessee and Texas are trying to make it easier for parents to opt out of testing, and two New York districts will require parents to opt in to participate in this year’s assessments. Meanwhile, state and local leaders are making the case for why assessments matter for identifying gaps, targeting resources, and promoting equity.

With assessments likely, the conversation has shifted toward what we can learn from the data. Academics, like Harvard Professor Andrew Ho, have weighed in on how states can navigate data quality issues and still gain meaningful insights from this year’s assessment data. This week, NWEA and Education Reform Now released a report on reimagining assessments and accountability to advance student success, based on conversations at a convening of 100+ experts, advocates, and education leaders.

State leaders are also considering how to collect data on student access to instruction, technology, and other opportunity to learn (OTL) information. Oregon, for instance, will administer a Student Educational Equity Development (SEED) Survey to gather data on student access to resources and social emotional needs. In response, federal officials said that this information—alongside results from statewide assessments—will help to target resources and close equity gaps.

DQC Board Member and University of Southern California Associate Professor Morgan Polikoff recently said that, “…assessment data is just one piece in a broader a broader constellation of data.” Assessments are not the only piece of data that matters this year—but comparable, statewide data is essential to understanding how the pandemic affected student achievement and targeting resources where most needed. DQC will continue to track these important issues and provide updates as they develop.