The U.S. Department of Education announced Monday, Feb. 23 it would not be granting assessment test waivers to any states.

In a letter sent to states, the Department of Education said it needs to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify resources and supports students need. The Department of Education also stated schools must be prepared to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

DOCUMENT: U.S. Department of Education assessment test requirement plan

According to the Department of Education, state assessment and accountability systems are the best way to advance educational equity and assess how well students are learning during these times.

Due to the ongoing pandemic and the fact that not all schools in the country are able to hold in-person schooling, the Department of Education has offered some flexibility in regard to the assessment tests.

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The federal government is allowing states the flexibility to administer a shortened version of their statewide assessment tests, offer the test remotely when feasible and extend the testing window, including moving the test into the summer or even allowing tests to be held at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year.

States that elected to extend testing windows will need to consider how they make results available to the public in a timely manner after the assessments are administered. The Department of Education still requires states to publicly report their results.

The Department of Education is also offering states the option to request a waiver for the accountability and school identification requirements. This waiver would allow states not to use data from the 2020-21 assessment test when identifying schools for comprehensive support and improvement, targeted support and improvement and additional targeted support and improvement.

If a state seeks an accountability and school identification waiver, it will be required to publicly report chronic absenteeism data and, to the extent the state or school district already collects such information, data on student and educator access to technology devices such as laptops or tablets and to high-speed internet at home.

“The intent of these flexibilities, and the accountability waivers described above, is to focus on assessments to provide information to parents, educators, and the public about student performance and to help target resources and supports,” the letter to states said. “For that reason, we are not inviting blanket waivers of assessments.”

The Minnesota Department of Education sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Education earlier this month requesting waivers be considered regarding the accountability and school identification requirements.

DOCUMENT: Minnesota Department of Education letter to U.S. Department of Education

“We are heartened to see that the federal government has responded to our request to waive the accountability and school identification requirements for this school year,” Minnesota Department of Education Assistant Director of Communications Ashleigh Norris said in an emailed statement.

Norris said the Minnesota Department of Education will create an opportunity for Minnesotans to provide comments on the waiver, and partner with school leaders and educators as they consider the additional flexibility offered by the federal government.

The Minnesota Department of Education already announced earlier this month it would not be seeking assessment test waivers and the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessments will be administered this spring unless new direction was given by the federal government.

Education Minnesota, a statewide teachers' union, was not happy with this decision.

“Minnesota students need their educators to focus on helping them catch up academically and emotionally after a year of traumas, disruptions and distractions. Educators are going to need every minute this spring to do it,” said Denise Specht, president of Education Minnesota. “We can’t afford the huge time commitment, not to mention the added safety risk of stuffing students into computer labs, for the least-useful assessments of the year. This has not been a standard year. We don’t need a standardized test.”

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten said in a statement her members are frustrated by the requirement by the federal government for states to administer assessment tests this year.

“While its plan does offer the option for testing modifications and waivers for accountability requirements, which is a start, it misses a huge opportunity to really help our students by allowing the waiver of assessments and the substitution, instead, of locally developed, authentic assessments that could be used by educators and parents as a baseline for work this summer and next year,” Weingarten said.