Statement on U.S. Department of Education Stance on Accountability and Assessments for the 2020-21 School Year
On February 22, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education released a letter to Chief State School Officers regarding flexibility for accountability and assessment systems during the 2020-21 school year. This letter came after Michigan formally requested a waiver from federal requirements and many, including the Education Trust-Midwest, voiced concern with the breadth of the requested waiver.
The following is a statement by Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest:
“We are pleased to see the U.S. Department of Education has stated that it will not consider blanket waivers of the critical civil rights component of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that requires high quality, statewide assessments. We recognize the many challenges that states continue to face as they respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, including managing a mix of in-person and remote instruction and the logistical challenges of administering annual statewide assessments. Students of color, Native students, English learners, immigrant students, students with disabilities, students from low-income families, and other historically underserved students have faced and will continue to experience unique challenges that impede their learning during the pandemic.
“Alongside our partners, we will closely watch as the U.S. Department of Education works with states to ensure they are administering statewide assessments, as well as collecting and publicly reporting on multiple measures of the student experience for the 2020 – 2021 school year. It is critical that the Department must not, as part of its promised state-by-state “flexibility,” grant waivers to states that would allow them to substitute local assessments in place of statewide assessments or to only assess a subset of students. By design, these local assessments do not hold all students to the same standards and expectations. They do not offer appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities or English learners, as required under federal law for statewide assessments; they are not peer reviewed to ensure quality and prevent bias; and the results of these assessments will not be comparable from district to district.
“We also urge the Michigan Department of Education to embrace this decision as an opportunity to commit to administering statewide summative assessments, as well as collecting data on multiple measures, including school climate, student access to resources and opportunities, and student learning outcomes. These are essential tools to address systemic inequities in our education system, as well as gauge the quality of instruction and support offered under COVID-19 restrictions.
“Transparent, actionable measures of the experiences of different groups of students can empower families and advocates; guide state and local resource allocation, interventions, and supports; and identify equity gaps that require federal investment, policy and guidance.
“Parents and families deserve to know whether their children are meeting college- and career-ready expectations — and whether the education system is responding to and improving their opportunities to succeed.”