It said that “the vast majority of students in the District of Columbia (88 percent) are receiving full-time distance learning as of March 20, 2021, and most students receiving hybrid instruction are in school for only one day per week. As a result, very few students would be able to be assessed in person this spring.”
The Biden administration has rejected calls to waive the annual exams, permission that former education secretary Betsy DeVos granted in 2020 to all states that did not want to give the tests after school buildings closed.
A number of states asked for waivers this year, saying conditions made it too hard to administer tests that would produce credible results. But the department said that while states could change the timing of tests, shorten them and administer them remotely, students still had to take them. Exceptions could be made in certain places because of the pandemic.
Public schools are required to give annual standardized exams in math and English language arts under the federal 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act, which replaced the 2002 No Child Left Behind law.
In a letter this week approving the District’s waiver, Ian Rosenblum, the Education Department’s deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs, wrote that “we must also recognize that we are in the midst of a pandemic that requires real flexibility.”
To protect students’ identities, the city might not be able to release data, Rosenblum said, because so few students would be able to be assessed in the spring and subgroups could be very small.
In addition to tests in English language arts and math, the District also tests students in science, though that is not part of the federal mandate. Rosenblum said the science tests did not have to be given either. However, the District will administer exams intended to measure the proficiency of students designated as English language learners.
The decision to grant D.C. an exemption may rankle states that want a testing waiver but can’t get one, said Bob Schaeffer, acting executive director of the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, a nonprofit known as FairTest that works to prevent the abuse of standardized tests.
“Perceived inconsistencies in USDOE’s ‘standardized’ policy for standardized testing waivers will certainly anger states whose similar requests have been rebuffed (either denied or urged to edit and resubmit),” he said in an email.
The Office of the State Superintendent of Education — which administers the federal standardized exams to the city’s students — said in a statement that it believes the assessments help advance student learning.
“But given our unique circumstances in DC this year, we appreciate the U.S. Department of Education’s approval on our assessment waiver,” Interim Superintendent Shana Young said. “We look forward to resuming statewide assessments next year as we continue to support recovery efforts for our students, families and school communities.”