(CBS News)–The Biden administration announced Monday that state education departments would have flexibility surrounding standardized testing this year, but would not have broad authority to cancel those examinations.
The highly-anticipated policy decision is a reversal from the Trump administration, which widely allowed districts to cancel standardized testing last year as the pandemic prompted widespread shifts to remote learning.
This year, the Department of Education will “not invit[e] blanket waivers of assessments,” Ian Rosenblum, the acting assistant education secretary, said in a three-page letter sent to state education heads. Instead, the department will offer modifications and alternatives to annual standardized tests, including pushing the exams until the summer or fall, administering the tests remotely and offering shortened versions.
“It is urgent to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning,” Rosenblum said in the letter. “We know, however, that some schools and school districts may face circumstances in which they are not able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices.”
Standardized testing in the wake of the pandemic has become a hot-button issue among education stakeholders. While many education advocates argue that it’s imperative to understand how remote learning has impacted student achievement, other groups, including the nation’s biggest teachers’ unions say administering examinations in the context of a pandemic places an undue burden on students and faculty members.
According to a new survey from the National PTA, roughly half of parents favor standardized testing this spring in order “to measure the pandemic’s impact on student learning.” About a quarter were opposed and the remaining were neutral or not sure. Among Hispanic families, support for examinations rose to 57%, according to the survey.
Teachers’ unions were less supportive. In a statement, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, the second-largest teacher’s union, said the Biden administration’s plan “misses a huge opportunity to really help our students” and instead suggested “locally developed, authentic assessments that could be used by educators and parents as a baseline for work this summer and next year.”
In a statement to CBS News, Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, the largest education labor union in the U.S., encouraged states to “submit a request to suspend high stakes school rankings” and ask the Department of Education to authorize them to “tailor assessments that can actually determine where students are and help design an educational experience that fully supports their academic, social and emotional needs.”