U.S. Department of Education recently announced that states would be able to bypass federal standardized testing requirements for the 2019-2020 school year due to complications imposed by the COVID-19 outbreak.
The federal government will be granting waivers to states that are unable to administer federally required tests due to the ongoing national emergency and associated statewide emergencies brought about by the pandemic.
U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said the outbreak made it very difficult for schools and students to continue traditional methods of instruction. This comes in the wake of school districts across the country closing and transitioning to remote instruction.
She said there was no need to impose additional stress on students and teachers already dealing with significant changes in their method of learning and instruction.
“I’ve spoken with many local education leaders in the past days, and I’m inspired by their efforts to help their students continue to learn and grow,” DeVos said in a press release announcing the decision. “We’re going to continue to provide flexibility possible to help make that as simple as possible.”
To make attaining the waivers easier, the federal government said they would be streamlining the application process — a process North Carolina began when its Department of Public Instruction voted to seek a federal waiver on March 23.
The tests that would be waived in North Carolina include the end-of-grade reading and math tests administered to students in third through eighth grades, science tests for fifth and eighth grades and end-of-course tests in Math 1 and 3, biology and English 2.
The state’s A-F school performance grades and many other elements in the state’s School Report Cards would also be waived.
Notably not waived are Advanced Placement examinations because they lie outside of the state’s jurisdiction, but the College Board has decided they will be administered through 45-minute online exams taken at home. The International Baccalaureate Organization, however, has canceled its exams.
Tammy Howard, director of accountability for the North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, said a waiver is necessary because of the disruptions the health emergency has caused.
“All assessments must be administered under conditions that ensure that these data are valid and reliable,” Howard said. “And we cannot do that at this time.”
The General Assembly had begun the process of decreasing the state’s standardized testing requirements as early as last year before the COVID-19 outbreak began. In the wake of the current health crisis, they are continuing to find ways to help accommodate the requests made by state education officials.
Joseph Kyzer, spokesperson for N.C. House Speaker Tim Moore, said lawmakers urged NCDPI to apply for waivers for state requirements as soon as the federal government announced its plan to allow them. These waivers, he said, have since been granted.
Kyzer said he believes it is important for education officials at both the federal and state level to have a uniform approach to this issue so they can reach a clear solution.
“That conformity is important for schools to have certainty and alleviate any confusion and really try to support students and faculty through this crisis,” Kyzer said.
But Kyzer said the situation is unprecedented and the impact of these changes remains to be seen.
Across the state, schools have been suspended for days or even weeks at a time due to hurricanes or snowstorms, but he said educators have never faced a statewide or nationwide obstacle like this.
He also said waiving the testing requirements allows everyone to focus on things that are more salient to them: Students and teachers can focus on how to deal with novel methods of remote instruction, and lawmakers can figure out what’s next for education in the state as a whole.
Kyzer said the next major issue the General Assembly will tackle in terms of education will be that of school calendars, and how they will be adjusted as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. But due to the health crisis, the General Assembly has reduced operations, and the next meeting for either the full House or Senate is scheduled for April 28.
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