Accountability, State Advocacy, Transparency

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

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

There is much about the upcoming school year that remains uncertain – including assessments. And as experts debate the best path forward, there’s no doubt that leaders will need assessment data to understand how school closures impacted student learning and identify how to help the groups of students hit harder by the pandemic. Parents also want assessment data: in a recent DQC poll, 77 percent of parents agreed that states should resume administration of end-of-year summative assessments to better understand how well schools and students are meeting academic standards.[1]

In response to COVID-related school closures, the Department of Education waived assessment requirements for the 2019-2020 academic year. While the Department of Education has not issued any official guidance on 2020-2021 standardized assessments, at the Education Writer’s Association National Seminar last week, Assistant Secretary for Planning, Evaluation and Policy Development Jim Blew, said the Department isn’t inclined to grant assessment waivers. He noted, “There are so many benefits to testing, and it allows for some transparency about how schools are performing.”

However, some are calling on states to request a similar waiver for 2020-2021. So far, three states (Georgia, South Carolina, and Michigan) have announced their intention to seek a federal waiver for 2020-2021 assessment requirements. Conversations are happening in other states, too:

  • Louisiana policymakers called on the state board to review the need for assessments in 2020-2021; legislators in Oklahoma and Ohio have urged state officials to seek a federal waiver.
  • Multiple Texas policymakers have come out against holding assessments next year. Gov. Greg Abbott has not agreed seek a federal waiver for assessments, but did announce earlier this week that 2021 test scores would not be used to determine if students can move from one grade to the next.
  • Tennessee superintendents from Shelby and Williamson County have called on the Governor to request a waiver. Governor Bill Lee denied Williamson County’s request, stating, “We must be able to know how our students are progressing to know where they need support and what areas they need to focus on, and the state remains committed to providing this critical data to educators and families.” The State Collaborative on Reforming Education (SCORE) has similarly argued for the importance of next year’s assessments.
  • In a joint reopening proposal, three Massachusetts teachers groups have called for an end to Massachusetts’ statewide assessment system—drawing criticism from the Boston Globe Editorial Board.

Statewide, annual assessments are the primary tool state and local leaders have to understand how well schools are serving their students. Assessments provide data on student performance and growth that can be broken down by different student groups, shedding light on equity gaps. Leaders need this data to make informed decisions and ensure all students have the support they need to succeed.

Parents and community members also rely on assessment data to learn about their local schools and advocate for student’s needs. By sharing assessment data through public resources like report cards, leaders put vital information into the hands of those who deserve it and demonstrate their commitment to transparency.

DQC will continue to track this issue and provide updates in the coming weeks. In this uncertain time, it is crucial that parents and leaders not be left in the dark. Administering statewide assessments this year is one way that state leaders can turn on the light.

[1] Online survey conducted within the United States by The Harris Poll on behalf of the Data Quality Campaign: April 28–May 1, 2020, among 1,725 parents of children ages 5–17 (1,565 whose children attend school).