Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp (R) said on Thursday that he would seek federal permission to suspend mandated standardized testing for 2020-21, the second year in a row, because of disruptions to learning because of the coronavirus pandemic. And he said he would keep pushing to eliminate some tests outright because the “current high-stakes testing regime is excessive.”

The announcement is the first made by any U.S. governor to seek a 2020-21 testing waiver from the U.S. Education Department, but is probably not the last, given the potential for continued disruptions to learning as the pandemic continues.

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave all states a one-year waiver this spring to suspend federally mandated testing for the 2019-20 year after schools around the country closed and learning was delivered remotely for several months. That means states have to seek another waiver for the coming school year from DeVos, who has never been an active proponent of using standardized tests to evaluate students and teachers.

Under the current federal K-12 education law, known as the Every Student Succeeds Act, states must test children annual for accountability purposes, depending on the grade level of the child. In grades 3-8, students must be tested once a year in reading and math, as well as once in high school. States must also test students in science three times — once in elementary school, once in middle school and once in high school.

Kemp and State School Superintendent Richard Woods released a statement (see in full below) Thursday saying that given the challenges posed by the pandemic and the resulting state budget cuts, “it would be counterproductive to continue with high-stakes testing for the 2020-2021 school year.”

“In anticipation of a return to in-person instruction this fall, we believe schools’ focus should be on remediation, growth, and the safety of students” it said. “Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing would be a dollar taken away from the classroom.”

Kemp and Woods also said they were suspending for 2020-21 the teacher evaluation system in Georgia called the Teacher Keys Effectiveness System, which is based in part on student standardized test scores.

Before Thursday’s announcement, Kemp had been backing an effort to cut back the number of standardized tests that students are required to take. With his support, the Georgia Senate unanimously approved a bill earlier this year that would drop four of the eight end-of-course exams required for high school students, and another standardized test given in middle school. Though the Assembly did not have to vote, Kemp said he would not drop the effort.

“These efforts are in line with our longstanding shared belief that assessment has a place and a purpose in education, but the current high-stakes testing regime is excessive,” he said in the statement. “Though the legislative session was shortened due to COVID-19, we are continuing to pursue Senate Bill 367, which aims to get Georgia’s state testing requirements in line with the federal minimum and maximize time for instruction.”

Here’s the full statement issued by Kemp and Woods:

In March 16, Georgia became one of the first states in the nation to suspend standardized testing requirements in the wake of the COVID-19 school closures, and later received approval from the U.S. Department of Education for the cancelation of all remaining standardized tests in the 2019-2020 school year.
Given the ongoing challenges posed by the pandemic and the resulting state budget reductions, it would be counterproductive to continue with high-stakes testing for the 2020-2021 school year. In anticipation of a return to in-person instruction this fall, we believe schools’ focus should be on remediation, growth, and the safety of students. Every dollar spent on high-stakes testing would be a dollar taken away from the classroom.
Georgia will submit a waiver to the U.S. Department of Education for the suspension of the 2020-21 Georgia Milestones assessment and CCRPI school and district rating. To our knowledge, Georgia is the first state in the nation to make this announcement for the upcoming school year. Additionally, effective immediately, the Georgia Department of Education is suspending the teacher evaluation (TKES) summative rating for 2020-21.
These efforts are in line with our longstanding shared belief that assessment has a place and a purpose in education, but the current high-stakes testing regime is excessive. Though the legislative session was shortened due to COVID-19, we are continuing to pursue Senate Bill 367, which aims to get Georgia’s state testing requirements in line with the federal minimum and maximize time for instruction.
We are hopeful the federal government will recognize that the upcoming school year will not be ‘business as usual’ and will accept our request for a standardized testing waiver.