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Feds tell Delaware it must offer school testing this spring, but offer options

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The U.S. Department of Education has told Delaware it must do a testing assessment of students this year, but can apply for a waiver that essentially will prevent schools from being tagged for lower scores after disruptions caused by COVID-19.

The letter that the Delaware Department of Education received Monday offers a variety of options schools can employ to make testing easier, and says  it must seek input from the public and education groups before applying for a waiver.

The Delaware DOE is still weighing its options, spokeswoman Alison May said.

“We are exploring such factors as timing and cost,” she said.

Delaware schools did not do comprehensive testing last spring, as they usually do, because most classes were being taught remotely after Gov. John Carney shut down the state when the first case of COVID-19 was found March 11, 2020.

 

Education officials and the letter say the U.S. Department of Education wants to be able to assess where students are now after having two school years so badly impacted by being in and out of classrooms.

Gov. John Carney said Tuesday that 77,000 students are now back in classrooms at least part-time during the week. That’s a little more than half of the state’s 141,000 students. At least one school system superintendent said that parents are increasingly asking for their kids to go back to class.

“It’s a major focus here in Delaware and across the country to do some kind of assessment of how much ground students have lost to determine what we need to do to get them back on pace,” Carney said during his weekly COVID-19 briefing.

The answers could affect how much money and other resources schools get from the federal government to help, he said.

Delaware schools usually offer the Smarter Balanced test each year in grades 3 to 8, and offer high school juniors the Scholastic Aptitude Test, also known as the SAT.

 

The Delaware State Education Association, a teachers union, is pleased that options are included with ways to offer the testing.

“Would we have preferred to be able to push it off? Yes, but that’s not the option,’ said DSEA spokeswoman Shelley Meadowcraft. “And we’re happy to have the flexibility that they’re giving us with that.

“We do think that being given this flexibility with Smarter Balance will help focus educators’ voices in shaping the assessment now and actually inform student learning, and that all students deserve and have the ability to demonstrate knowledge in many ways that are measurable by those who know them best, the educators.”

The federal letter to the state comes as Miguel Cardona, Biden’s nominee to lead the U.S. Department of Education is awaiting confirmation. It was written by Ian Rosenblum, who is acting as  interim head of the department.

 

Biden wants students back in classrooms, he said.

“To be successful once schools have re-opened, we need to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need,” Rosenblum said. “We must also specifically be prepared to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, including by using student learning data to enable states, school districts and schools to target resources and supports to the students with the greatest needs.  In addition, parents need information on how their children are doing.”

The feds do not, however, want students forced into classrooms for the sole purpose of taking a test.

He said the state could:

  • Use a shortened version of the assessment, which could mean offering a test that takes one and one-half hours instead of three.
  • Allow the tests to be taken remotely, where feasible.
  • Consider expanding the testing window as far as the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, when many more children are expected to be back in classrooms for a new year as more COVID-19 vaccines have been distributed.
  • Lengthen the time period in which English language proficiency tests are given, because they are offered earlier in the school year and may be going on now.

Some Pennsylvania schools districts are already asking that state to delay testing until fall, according to news reports.

With a waiver in effect, Rosenblum said, “The state would also not be required to identify schools for comprehensive support and improvement targeted support and improvement … based on data from the 2020-2021 school year.”

States who receive the accountability and school identification waivers would be required to continue to support previously identified schools in the 2021-2022 school year, it said.

They also must resume school identification in the fall of 2022, and ensure transparency to parents and the public, including publicly reporting the percentage of students not assessed.

Rosenblum said states must give access to the results of testing to the public and educators, as well information on chronic absenteeism and “to the extent the state or school district already collects such information, data on student and educator access to technology devices like laptops or tablets and to high-speed internet at home.”

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