State school leaders should expect to administer standardized tests for K-12 students during the forthcoming year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos wrote in a letter Thursday.
U.S. states and territories received waivers for federal school testing mandates for the 2019-20 academic year after the coronavirus pandemic forced campuses to shut down in the spring, when students are typically tested.
DeVos said no such waivers should be anticipated for the school year that just began in most states. Instead, she said states could rethink how they test students, including the use of competency and mastery-based assessments.
“Make no mistake. If we fail to assess students, it will have a lasting effect for years to come,” she wrote. “Not only will vulnerable students fall behind, but we will be abandoning the important, bipartisan reforms of the past two decades at a critical moment.”
DeVos delivered the warning to state school leaders as many schools are beginning the fall semester remotely. Educator groups say tens of billions of additional federal aid is needed for K-12 schools but negotiations over additional pandemic relief in Congress have stalled, partly because of Democrats’ opposition to GOP proposals to tie funding to campuses reopening.
More Money Needed
Democrats agreed that assessments are needed to see where students have fallen behind but said schools require more resources to address their academic progress.
“There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic is having severe consequences for students’ growth and achievement, particularly for our most vulnerable students,” Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, said in a statement. “We cannot begin to address these consequences, unless we fully understand them.”
Scott said DeVos’s announcement should provide more reason for Congress to pass additional aid for schools.
Several civil rights groups also endorsed the decision to return to annual school testing, including the Education Trust, LULAC, National Center for Learning Disabilities, and the National Urban League.
“Of course, assessments alone will not address discriminatory systems; they must be paired with real action to address the systemic inequities they bring to light,” the groups said.
But Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the country’s second-largest teachers’ union, said the decision showed DeVos is disconnected from the reality of most communities.
“Instead of focusing on the supports our kids need to get back to school safely, or what she can do to help, her first missive to the field is to tell them she is maintaining high stakes testing,” Weingarten said. “Accountability has a role, as does data, but right now educators and students are struggling with the daily realities of remote learning and returning to a potentially unsafe working environment.”
To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Kreighbaum in Washington at firstname.lastname@example.org