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US Department of Education denies Michigan’s request to stop standardized testing amidst pandemic

Both State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice and State Board of Education President Dr. Casandra Ulbrich have voiced their opinion that these tests should be waived because of the school year’s COVID-19 related difficulties.
Published: Apr. 6, 2021 at 7:18 PM EDT
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LANSING, Mich. (WLUC) - Michigan schools will have to administer the typical standardized testing used to assess student retainment despite the coronavirus pandemic.

According to a press release Tuesday evening from the Michigan Department of Education, The U.S. Department of Education (USED) has denied Michigan’s request to waive federal requirement to administer the state’s summative assessments. This decision comes after the Michigan Department of Education requested waivers to federal requirements for state summative tests, as well as other associated high-stakes accountability requirements. The accountability waivers were approved on March 26.

Both State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice and State Board of Education President Dr. Casandra Ulbrich have voiced their opinion that these tests should be waived because of the school year’s COVID-19 related difficulties. Michigan schools have transitioned from in-person to online, sometimes several times, throughout the year. These educational leaders believe that this year will be made worse if schools are forced to spend a good portion of the spring on Michigan’s year-end state summative tests. They argue that teachers could better spend their time working with students.

The Michigan Department of Education argues that locally chosen and administered national benchmark assessments, which were required by state law last summer would be more beneficial in providing parents and educators with valuable information about where students stand academically. They believe that these tests will help target resources and supports for students who are struggling.

“With its decision today to deny Michigan’s request to waive M-STEP testing in the midst of the pandemic, USED continues to demonstrate its disconnect from conditions in public schools in Michigan and across the country” Dr. Rice said. “Michigan has the highest rates of recent COVID-19 cases and recent cases per 100,000 in the nation at the moment. Our state legislators and governor had the foresight to require districts to administer benchmark assessments in the fall and in the spring of this school year to provide data to educators and parents and to help target resources, interventions, and supports to students in districts. USED even canceled its own assessment—the National Assessment of Educational Progress—in November, an acknowledgement of the pandemic at that time.

“For a state that has mandated benchmark assessments this year to inform educators and parents of where students are in reading and math, USED’s lockstep allegiance in a pandemic to state summative assessments such as M-STEP is simply fidelity to two decades of education policy drift under the federal No Child Left Behind Act and its uncreative and still punitive offspring. “Is it any wonder that educators are leaving the profession when, in a pandemic, USED insists that Michigan use time, which should be dedicated to children’s social emotional and academic growth, to test a portion of its students to generate data that will inform precisely nothing about our children’s needs that we won’t already know more substantially and quickly with benchmark assessments this year?”

“This is beyond disappointing. It’s shameful,” Dr. Ulbrich said. “USED had an opportunity to do the right thing for the right reasons, and instead chose to appease special interests rather than support students. Michigan citizens, educators and parents will get virtually no useful and actionable information from this year’s state tests. It would be shameful now if the state legislature used these ‘results’ to impose negative consequences on children or schools.”

Because of this decision, local school districts will be administering the tests as scheduled, including MSTEP for students in grades 3-8; PSAT 8/9 for students in 8th grade; MME, which includes the SAT, for students in 11th grade; MI-ACCESS for students receiving special education services in grades 3-8 and 11; and WIDA for students in English learner programs in grades K-12.

According to the Michigan Department of Education, it does not support requiring otherwise remote or virtual students the opportunity to come into school to take the appropriate state summative assessments. Districts will have to offer remote or virtual students the opportunity to come into school to take the appropriate state summative assessments. However, those remote-only students will not be required to come into school for the sole purpose of taking the assessments.

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