On Monday, February 22, 2021, the U.S. Department of Education (“DOE”) informed states they must administer federally mandated standardized exams for the 2020-2021 school year.
However, as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the DOE provided states with flexible options with respect to assessment, accountability, and reporting systems.
Accountability and School Identification Waiver: The DOE is allowing states to apply for waiver for Every Student Succeeds Act’s (“ESSA”) accountability and school identification requirements. This waiver also explicitly includes a waiver from the 95% participation rate requirements.
Additionally, under this waiver, a state would not be required to identify schools for comprehensive support and improvement (CSI), targeted support and improvement (TSI), and additional targeted support and improvement (ASTI) based on the 2020-2021 school year data. A state that is granted this waiver would still be required to continue to support previously identified schools in the 2021-2022 school year, resume school identification in the fall of 2022, and ensure transparency to the parents and public.
Transparency and Public Reporting: The DOE will continue to require all state and local report card requirements, including those requirements to disaggregate data by student subgroup, except for reporting related to accountability (i.e., school ratings). If a state receives that Accountability and School Identification Waiver from above, the DOE will still require them to publicly report disaggregated chronic absenteeism data, to the extent the state or school district already collects such information, and data on student and educator access to technology and internet at home.
Assessments: The DOE provided flexible options for states to consider when administering assessments:
- Extending the testing window, which could include moving assessments to the summer or 2020-2021 school year.
- If possible, administering the assessments remotely
- Providing a shortened state assessment, as to make testing more feasible and prioritize in-person learning time.
The DOE will not be accepting blanket waivers of assessments like they did last March. States should continue to have open communication with their individual school districts to address their individual needs and conditions to determine whether additional assessment flexibility is needed based on any specific circumstances. Additionally, states who wish to extend the testing windows should also consider how they will make results available to the public in a timely fashion.
To Test or Not to Test?
ESSA requires states to establish student performance goals, hold schools accountable for student achievement, and include a measure of student performance in their accountability systems beyond just test scores.
However, test scores are still an element of ESSA’s accountability requirements. All public-school students must be tested in reading and math once a year, in grades three through 8, as well as once in high school. Students must also be tested science once in grade school, middle school, in high school. The Pennsylvania code requires a PSSA assessment be administered annually to every Pennsylvania student in grades 3 three with respect to English Language Arts and Math, and in grades four through 8 with respect to science.
State assessment and accountability systems are important in promoting educational equity. However, the current circumstance surrounding the pandemic requires flexible options. The Pennsylvania Department of Education (“PDE”) announced that public schools in Pennsylvania will have the option to delay federally required standardized tests until the fall. This option provides flexibility in administering assessments and makes certain that Pennsylvania has the appropriate data to identify any area of improvement or acceleration needed and help better understand COVID-19’s impact on all students and educators across the Commonwealth.
Bottom Line for Schools
While individual states and schools’ districts cannot waiver participation in standardized testing this year – parents can.
Under Pennsylvania Code Title 22, §4.4(d)(4), PDE allows parents to opt their child out of the PSSA tests for religious reasons. After informing the school of any intentions to opt-out their child, a parent/guardian must review the assessment(s) at the school and send a letter stating their child is opting-out of the PSSAs because of religious reasons. The written request will not be denied, and as long as a parent provides the written request to the school district that states their child’s religious exemption, it must be granted.
Additionally, school districts and administrations should provide students and parents with all the information needed to plan on PSSAs and continue to foster healthy and safe environments for staff and students amid the ongoing pandemic.
If you have a question, please contact your legal counsel or one of the Education attorneys at KingSpry.
School Law Bullets are a publication of KingSpry’s Education Law Practice Group. John E. Freund, III, is our editor. This article is meant to be informational and does not constitute legal advice.