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DeVos to State Ed Chiefs: Don’t Even Think About Testing Waivers This Year.

September 17, 2020

I have many issues with contemporary American education’s dependence upon standardized testing.

Testing students in order to grade teachers and schools is a misuse of student-completed standardized tests, and the high-stakes nature of this testing makes it a system begging to be gamed.

High-stakes testing narrows the broader curriculum because it wrongly bestows disproportionate value upon “tested subjects.”

Testing– and test prep– and test remediation– and retesting– costs states millions of dollars each year.

Standardized test results are of limited use in understanding student educational needs and pale in comparison to in-the-moment, informal teacher assessment based upon student behavior and performance on class assignments– conducted in classrooms across the nation every day– day to day– in order to understand where students are with mastering particular content and skills and in determining next steps to move those students forward in their learning.

However, in trying to teach during the COVID-19 pandemic, one issue in particular is for me at the forefront of my beef with our nation’s unhealthy devotion to K12 standardized testing:

Testing devours class time, and with the lingering unknowns brought on by the pandemic, in-person teaching time is at a premium.

I do not want to surrender a minute of what little time I have in person with students as an offering to the federally-mandated god of standardized testing. So much about the 2020-21 school year is simply not knowable too far in advance; at the forefront of my mind is, “How much time will I have in person with my students this week?”

I am certain that governors nationwide are also concerned about the profound uncertainty surrounding the school year. Thus, it comes as no surprise that some have already begun asking the US Department of Education (USDOE) for waivers of 2020-21 annual testing requirements tied to the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

And like the evil stepmother to K12 public education that she is, US ed sec Betsy DeVos has already said, “Don’t even think about it.”

In her September 03, 2020, letter to state superintendents, DeVos prefaces her unequivocal “no” with how swell she has been for waiving testing in the spring of 2020, a the outset of the pandemic (you know, when it wasn’t nearly as bad as it is now).

DeVos talks about “using data to guide our decision making” even as COVID-19-related deaths in America approaches 200,000, with a 17-percent jump in those deaths the week after DeVos wrote her icy memo to state chiefs.

So, based on the data, one can reasonably conclude that COVID-19 will be with us throughout the 2020-21 school year. Yet DeVos says that the testing must go on.

She says that “organizations to which many of you belong” want standardized testing in 2020-21, such as the Common Core owner (she doesn’t say *that*) Council of Chief State School Officers and the organization that Common Core-, voucher-, and testing-pusher, Jeb Bush, created in order to groom state ed chiefs to follow his lead (she doesn’t say *that*) Chiefs for Change. DeVos also cites another Jeb Bush org (she doesn’t say *that*), Foundation for Excellence in Education (FEE) as supporting high-stakes testing during the pandemic, and she cites another Common-Core-promoting org (she doesn’t say *that*), Center for American Progress as wanting high-stakes testing that it has promoted for years (she doesn’t say *that,* either).

DeVos also cites known federal testing supporter and Common Core establisher and promoter and punitive-test-centered No Child Left Behind (NCLB) key contributor (DeVos doesn’t say *that*), Kati Haycock’s Education Trust and its associated nonprofit (DeVos doesn’t say *that,* either), Data Quality Campaign, as offering pro-testing support. Of course they do. It’s what they do.

However, DeVos does not even bother with arguments against ESSA-mandated testing in pandemic-saturated 2020-21– just a wafture of her testing-slanted hand to any criticism on that front.

How come? Well, because “opponents of reform, like labor unions”:

Opponents of reform, like labor unions, have already begun to call for the permanent elimination of testing. If they succeed in eliminating assessments, transparency and accountability will soon follow.

So, if the tests go, then the psychometrically unsound practice of using student test scores to grade teachers and schools is threatened. Oh, but no! We cannot allow the testing-to-grade-others to be threatened, and anyone who threatens testing is “like labor unions.” If you oppose test-centric ed, you are Like Labor Unions, the worst of insults in DeVos-think.

There is no pandemic that can stop DeVos and her ESSA tests. She tells the state chiefs whom she is willfully ignoring that she is here for them to “help ensure every state can meaningfully assesses student performance during SY 2020-2021.”

She closes with an encouragement that only a billionaire far from the front lines of anything can offer:

…Let’s remember that Americans are resourceful people and can accomplish great things even during the most challenging of times. Just as doctors, nurses, police officers, grocery clerks, and other essential workers have demonstrated their resolve, now is our opportunity to show that the same spirit is present in America’s education leaders as we work to safely reopen schools and to successfully educate our nation’s children.

Hollow words.

Read DeVos’ full letter below.

THE SECRETARY OF EDUCATION

WASHINGTON, DC 20202

September 3, 2020

Dear Chief State School Officer:

During the past several months, we have experienced unprecedented challenges across this nation, and I thank you for your efforts to meet the needs of all your students and safely reopen America’s schools. I’ve benefited from talking with each of you as this pandemic has gone on, and please know that your ideas, contributions, and suggestions have all been put to good use. As we look ahead, I want you to know my perspective on the importance of assessing student performance.

Research shows that school closures this past spring disproportionately affected the most vulnerable students, widening disparities in achievement for low-income students, minority students, and students with disabilities. Almost every student experienced some level of disruption. Moving forward, meeting the needs of all students will require tremendous effort. To be successful, we must use data to guide our decision-making.

Several of your colleagues recently inquired about the possibility of waivers to relieve states of the requirement to administer standardized tests during School Year (SY) 2020-2021. You will recall that, within a very short time, waivers were granted to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and the Bureau of Indian Education this past spring following the declaration of a national emergency. That was the right call, given the limited information available about the virus at the time and the need to stop its spread, as well as the practical realities limiting the administration of assessments. However, it is now our expectation that states will, in the interest of students, administer summative assessments during the 2020-2021 school year, consistent with the requirements of the law and following the guidance of local health officials. As a result, you should not anticipate such waivers being granted again.

As you’ll recall, statewide assessments are at the very core of the bipartisan agreement that forged ESSA. They are among the most reliable tools available to help us understand how children are performing in school. The data from assessments can help inform personalized support to children based on their individual needs and provide transparency about their progress. There is broad and consistent support for assessments because there is general agreement among the public that a student’s achievement should be measured, that parents deserve to know how their children are performing, and that it should be no secret how a school’s performance as a whole compares to other schools.

Organizations to which many of you belong, including the Council of Chief State School Officers and Chiefs for Change, researchers, and advocates have all recently expressed support for administering assessments during the upcoming school year. A letter signed by a bipartisan coalition, including the Center for American Progress, the Education Trust, the Foundation for Excellence in Education, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, among others, clearly noted:

The challenges posed by this crisis only underscore the value of collecting and reporting on a standard measure of student performance. Leaders should not have to continue to steer recovery efforts in the dark, and families and communities should be able to access the information they deserve about how schools are serving all students.

Parents agree. A recent survey conducted by the Data Quality Campaign showed that nearly 90 percent of parents want information about how school closures affect students. Additionally, 77 percent of parents agree that states should resume administration of statewide summative assessments in math and reading in 2021 to better understand how well schools and students are meeting academic standards in the wake of the pandemic.

I understand that presently it might be difficult to imagine the administration of statewide assessments in the same manner as they have been administered in the past. In fact, it may be that the assessments will look different. I am reminded of the old saying: necessity is the mother of invention. Now may be the perfect time for you to rethink assessment in your state, including considering competency and mastery-based assessments, to better gauge the learning and academic growth of your students.

My staff and I are prepared to work with you to help ensure every state can meaningfully assesses student performance during SY 2020-2021, including providing technical assistance and identifying and sharing best practices among states. We are open to discussions about what, if any, actions may be needed to adjust how the results of assessments are used in your state’s school accountability determinations.

Make no mistake. If we fail to assess students, it will have a lasting effect for years to come. 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. Opponents of reform, like labor unions, have already begun to call for the permanent elimination of testing. If they succeed in eliminating assessments, transparency and accountability will soon follow.

In closing, let’s remember that Americans are resourceful people and can accomplish great things even during the most challenging of times. Just as doctors, nurses, police officers, grocery clerks, and other essential workers have demonstrated their resolve, now is our opportunity to show that the same spirit is present in America’s education leaders as we work to safely reopen schools and to successfully educate our nation’s children.

If you have any questions or need additional information, please contact the Office of School Support and Accountability by e-mail at OESE.TitleI-A@ed.gov. Thank you.

                                                                        Sincerely,

                                                                       /s/

                                                                          Betsy DeVos

Betsy DeVos

________________________________________________________________________

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5 Comments
  1. As usual spot on Mercedes!

  2. I guess she missed her cut from the testing companies. She’s poor so she couldn’t afford to miss out on it twice.

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