Accountability, State Advocacy

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

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

With assessments on the horizon, leaders are doubling down on why assessments matter this year. In 17 states, leaders publicly stated that assessment data will be critical to see where students stand, identify gaps, and allocate resources (AR, AZ, CA, CO, ID, MA, MO, NJ, NM, NC, OH, OK, SD, TN, TX, UT, WY). Another seven have released details of their plan for spring assessments (FL, GA, MN, IN, NY, SC, LA).

In light of the recent postponement of the National Assessment of Educational Progress to 2022, Secretary DeVos has stated that assessment data is critical to see where students stand. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) agreed, saying:

I just think we have a moral responsibility to understand how all of our students are doing, where we are falling short, and we have to use data to make sure that we are doing the right thing and sending the dollars to where they are needed the most. That’s called education equity.”

The prospect of in-person assessments has prompted concerns about student and staff safety.

So far, states are moving forward with plans to administer in-person assessments. To provide districts with more flexibility to safely administer these tests, a number of states have extended testing windows. Some states, including California and Massachusetts, have also discussed the possibility of shortening assessments to reduce testing time.

Many parents and teachers are still concerned about holding in-person assessments in a pandemic.  In North Carolina, over 7,000 parents have signed a petition demanding a waiver for state testing this year. Teachers around the country called in sick earlier this week to protest standardized tests, among other policies they say are putting teachers at risk. In Colorado, a coalition of advocates submitted a letter against the in-person administration of statewide assessments specifically for English learners, which read:

“These students and their families are uniquely and disproportionately at risk of contracting the disease…In-person testing, which entails multiple separate test administrations for multiple hours over multiple days, places the students at imminent health risk and harm.”

Some states have started to roll back accountability and other high-stakes consequences of assessments.

While Secretary DeVos announced that states shouldn’t expect waivers but could make temporary changes to their accountability and school identification systems, some have speculated that the Biden administration may offer additional targeted ESSA waivers.

Leaders in at least five states have already called for the suspension of accountability this year (AZ, MO, TN, TX, WY). In a recent statement, the Council for Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) outlined their support for holding assessments with no accountability this year, saying:

“It is critical for state and local education leaders to continue to lead and focus on the aspects of assessment that are most important today in the midst of this pandemic: measuring the academic progress for as many students as possible; transparently reporting those results to students, families and the public; and using the data to inform decision-making….To be successful, students, families, and educators must know the results of this year’s assessment will only be used to drive supports for students.”

Other state leaders have pushed to reduce the stakes of this year’s assessments. This summer, Texas Governor Greg Abbott waived grade promotion requirements related to the State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness exam. After significant parent pushback, the Georgia State Board of Education approved a proposal to reduce the weight of students’ end-of-course assessments from 20% of their final grade to 0.01%.

Local leaders are still calling for the cancellation of assessments this year—however, some see their value for understanding where students stand.

Over the past few weeks, school boards in multiple states have called on state leaders to cancel statewide assessments. The Massachusetts Association of School Councils (MASC) earlier this month announced their support of a three-year moratorium on statewide assessments and a suspension of all assessment-related graduation requirements; since then, at least seven Massachusetts districts have called for the same anti-assessment measures. Superintendents in Colorado, Ohio, and North Carolina have issued similar statements, calling assessments inappropriate and counterproductive in the current public health crisis.

However, not all local leaders oppose testing. In Texas, a coalition of 14 superintendents joined business leaders and education advocates to support assessments with no accountability this year, saying that these tests are critical to “understanding where Texas students are in their learning journey.”

Assessments are critical tools for understanding where students stand and identifying where gaps exist. In this turbulent school year, parents, teachers, and leaders will need assessment data to understand the impact of COVID and chart a path forward. DQC will continue to track these important issues and provide updates into the new year.