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fall instead of spring. Some schools will use accommodat­ions and some won’t, but when those results come out, we’ll all still be compared to each other.”

Remote learners and exams

Acknowledg­ing the difficulty of remote learning, the new guidance waives the requiremen­t for states to test at least 95% of students.

Schools operating remotely are not expected to bring students back in person for the sole purpose of giving exams, Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant secretary of education said in a letter to state superinten­dents Monday.

Scott Norton, deputy executive director of the Council of Chief State School Officers, which represents school superinten­dents, said only about five states have signaled their intent to administer state exams to remote learners.

That means large numbers of remote learners will be left out of the testing pool.

Federal education law requires states to give standardiz­ed exams in subjects including reading and math to students in grades 3 through 8 and once in high school, with consequenc­es if participat­ion falls below 95%. The law aims to capture an annual snapshot of how kids are doing and to identify low-performing schools. The process can trigger improvemen­t efforts or other interventi­ons, or sometimes just public scrutiny.

All states are likely to apply for waivers from the accountabi­lity requiremen­ts, experts say.

States will still be required to publicly share how each school’s students performed at the state and local level, with breakdowns by race and income, the new guidance says.

But because states will likely test more in-person learners than remote learners, the results may reveal more about the performanc­e of white and wealthier students, who are attending school in-person at higher rates than lower-income and minority students.

Different states, different plans

A handful of states – including New York and Michigan – requested or are planning to request individual federal approval to substitute different tests or skip all statewide testing again, according to the Council of Chief State School Officers.

Other states, including Arizona, Florida, Indiana and Utah, are forging ahead with state tests this spring, even if it’s unclear how many remote learners will sit for the exams.

Pennsylvan­ia officials said they plan to postpone statewide exams until at least September – the beginning of next school year. More children are likely to be back in classrooms then.

Wisconsin plans to shorten its English, math and science tests by 70 to 80 minutes, officials said. And schools operating remotely will need to provide an in-person testing environmen­t if local health orders allow people to be in buildings.

In Massachuse­tts, Education Commission­er Jeffrey Riley has said state exams for elementary and middlescho­ol students would be shorter this year. The state has not announced any details on the testing of remote versus in-person learners.

Some teachers praise testing

The flexibilit­y drew applause from Educators for Excellence, a nonprofit that gives teachers more of a say in education policy.

“Holding teachers and schools accountabl­e for assessment results would have been a mistake, but not testing our students so that we can support their growth with data would be an even bigger mistake,” Carlotta Pope, an 11thgrade English teacher in New York City, said in a statement.

The results of the exams could actually help drive more funding to schools, added Ethan Hutt, an education professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Schools could make a better case for summer school funding, for example, if they can show certain groups of students are struggling more than others, he said.

“We know that schools and districts have approached (schooling in the pandemic) with different levels of competence and technology,” Hutt said. “If we want to direct policy and resources to schools that are particular­ly hard hit, we need more precise informatio­n about what’s happening.”

Acknowledg­ing the difficulty of remote learning, the new guidance waives the requiremen­t for states to test at least 95% of students.

Tests create stress, critics say

David Ruff, executive director of the Great Schools Partnershi­p, a school improvemen­t non-profit in New England, said sharing exam results at all could perpetuate the “blame and shame” on schools that post low results.

Generally, the lowest-performing schools are those that serve the highest proportion of low-income and minority students.

Testing critics worry that could add additional layers of stress for families and students, many of whom may already be struggling with the pressures of distance learning.

Standardiz­ed tests are designed to identify systemic problems and schools that aren’t doing well, Ruff said.

“They’re not designed to identify individual student learning loss,” he added.

Debates over testing bubbled up in January, when a coalition of education and civil-rights groups called on the Biden administra­tion to postpone or offer waivers for the language-proficienc­y assessment­s typically taken by students still learning English.

The language-proficienc­y test can’t be administer­ed remotely, and critics worried requiring students to test inperson could put their health at risk. The vast majority of English learners are people of color, communitie­s that have been hit hardest by the COVID-19 pandemic.

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