Michigan students are required to take standardized tests this spring, the federal government has ruled.
The U.S. Department of Education has denied the state’s request to waive the requirement for the annual tests amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Michigan Department of Education officials said.
“With its decision to deny Michigan’s request to waive M-STEP testing in the midst of the pandemic, USED (U.S. Department of Education) continues to demonstrate its disconnect from conditions in public schools in Michigan and across the country,” State Superintendent Michael Rice said.
The standardized tests include include M-STEP for students in third through eighth grades; PSAT 8/9 for students in eighth grade; MME, including SAT, for students in 11th grade; MI-ACCESS for students receiving special education services in third thorough eighth grades 11th grade, and WIDA for students in English learner programs in grades K-12.
The state superintendent requested the waiver in a letter to acting U.S. Education Secretary Phil Rosenfelt Monday, Jan. 25, citing inconsistent instructional methods between Michigan schools as one of several reasons to grant waivers from assessment and accountability requirements.
In his waiver request, Rice said the tests cannot be administered fairly and safely while thousands of students are still at home learning remotely — many lacking consistent Internet access.
Last March, former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos allowed Michigan to waive standardized testing for 2019-20.
The issue of state testing has been debated by state education leaders, school administrators and the Michigan Education Association. While the state teachers union and state superintendent argue the tests are not a good option for gauging student performance this year, others, like the Detroit Public Schools superintendent, argue that collecting data will help officials know how the pandemic has affected student learning.
The tests should not be used to hold teachers and students accountable for their performance this year, but rather to collect data on how much learning loss students have suffered during the pandemic, DPS Superintendent Nikolai Vitti said.
Acting U.S. Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum agrees, saying in a letter to education leaders that standardized tests are crucial for collecting data on learning loss during the pandemic.
“We must be prepared to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, including using student learning data to enable states, school districts, and schools to target resources and supports to the students with the greatest needs,” Rosenblum said.
While many Michigan districts have been open to in-person learning, some students are still learning remotely. Schools that have opened also face frequent closures and quarantines due to exposure to COVID-19.
A recent surge in COVID-19 cases this spring already has sent schools that were offering in-person classes back to remote learning.
Last summer, Michigan leaders enacted locally-chosen benchmark assessments to provide parents and teachers the knowledge of where students are and to offer support as a result. Rice argues these benchmark assessments offer a far better look into where students are performing and can be used to target resources and extra support as needed.
“Is it any wonder that educators are leaving the profession when, in a pandemic, USED insists that Michigan use time, which should be dedicated to children’s social emotional and academic growth, to test a portion of its students to generate data that will inform precisely nothing about our children’s needs that we won’t already know more substantially and quickly with benchmark assessments this year?” Rice asked.
State Board of Education President Casandra Ulbrich also offered sharp criticism of the federal government’s decision.
“This is beyond disappointing. It’s shameful,” Ulbrich said. “USED had an opportunity to do the right thing for the right reasons, and instead chose to appease special interests rather than support students. Michigan citizens, educators and parents will get virtually no useful and actionable information from this year’s state tests. It would be shameful now if the state legislature used these ‘results’ to impose negative consequences on children or schools.”
The federal government did grant a waiver request from the state for federal accountability requirements. In a letter to Rice, the federal government waived the requirement the state measure progress toward long-term goals and interim progress, rate schools based on performance and identify low-performing schools for targeted support and improvement based on data from the current school year.
The federal government also waived the requirement that at least 95% of students participate in state assessments.
MDE will not require students learning in a remote or virtual setting to come into a school building solely for the purpose of being tested, Rice said.
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