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

March 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.

After months of speculation, the Biden administration announced last week that they would not grant blanket waivers for 2021 statewide assessments. States can instead apply for limited waivers for accountability and school identification—including, notably, the 95 percent participation requirement. They will also have the option of extending assessment windows through summer or fall 2021 and administering shorter or remote versions of the tests.

Reactions among state leaders have been mixed. In states like Georgia and New York that had previously requested assessment waivers, leaders expressed disappointment in the decision but said they will move forward with assessments. Officials in other states like Maine and Pennsylvania said they appreciated that the Biden administration acknowledged the challenges of assessing students in a pandemic, saying that the guidance “strikes the right balance.”

Since last week, at least ten states have confirmed that they will administer 2021 assessments and apply for limited federal waivers and flexibility (AR, CA, CO, GA, IN, MD, ME, NM, NY, PA). Many had already planned to provide districts with flexibilities similar to those outlined in the guidance or had taken steps to reduce the stakes of assessments for students, teachers, and schools.

But at least two other states are still holding out for full waivers. Michigan State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice said in a statement that benchmark assessments are sufficient to see where students stand and target supports. And Washington, DC will allow schools to submit data from local assessments instead of administering annual PARCC tests. At least five state legislatures are considering bills that would cancel assessments and force state education agencies to request waivers (CO, MI, OH, SC, TX). It is not clear how the Biden administration will respond to these requests.

State and local teachers groups remain opposed to assessments, which they say cannot be equitably administered, take up limited instructional time, and will not produce useful information. More than 45 civil rights organizations and education advocacy organizations, including DQC, maintain that assessments are crucial to addressing systemic inequities and gauging the quality of instruction and support provided during COVID. Recent survey results from the National PTA and Learning Heroes show that parents also support assessments as a way to measure the pandemic’s impact on student learning.

It is now up to states to determine how to effectively administer assessments. Some key questions going forward include:

  • Is it actually feasible for states to offer shortened or remotely administered assessments?
  • How long will states extend testing windows, and how many will postpone until fall 2021?
  • With rising concerns about parents opting out of testing, how will states plan to measure the learning of students who do not participate in tests?

Even if assessments look different than in years prior, having comparable data on student performance is critical to see where students stand and direct resources where they are most needed. Parents and those closest to students deserve information they can use to support their students over the summer and into next year. DQC will continue to track these important issues and provide updates as they develop.