Legal Corner (Fall 2020): USED Unwavering on Assessment Waivers

By Megan Welsh posted 09-21-2020 13:39


Michelle Croft, ACT

Spring 2020 was the first time in nearly twenty years that states did not administer assessments to students in grades 3–8 and high school. The spring newsletter previously articulated some of the technical issues facing states missing one year’s worth of assessment data. Since that newsletter, a half dozen states have announced plans to seek assessment and accountability waivers for spring 2021. In June, Georgia, citing budgetary concerns, announced a plan to seek a waiver, and submitted the waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education (USED) in mid-July. Also in June, South Carolina’s state Superintendent stated that she wished to waive testing requirements—pending state legislative approval—in order to provide additional instructional time and reduce anxiety related to testing this school year. A few days later, the South Carolina Legislature enacted legislation authorizing the South Carolina Department of Education to seek such a waiver. The state released information for stakeholder input in late August, but has yet to submit the waiver request. Other states legislatures considering authorizing their state’s department of education to seek waivers include Michigan, Oklahoma, Texas, and most recently Ohio.

Nevertheless, USED has indicated that it is not planning to grant assessment waivers. In July, Jim Blew, the USED assistant secretary for planning, evaluation, and policy development, stated at the Education Writers Association’s National Seminar that USED was not planning to grant assessment waivers this school year. The statement was followed with a letter from Secretary DeVos to chief state school officers reiterating USED’s expectation that states will administer summative assessments during the 2020–21 school year. The letter emphasized that statewide assessments are “the most reliable tools available to help us understand how children are performing in schools” and that the data can not only help inform personalized support but also provide transparency about student progress. The letter did, however, indicate that USED was willing to work with states on how the assessment results could be used as part of accountability systems, specifically how the results are used in school accountability determinations.

Georgia responded to the letter with a press release expressing hope that the accountability portion of their waiver request would be granted but also articulating their concerns about testing this spring, which included not just the cost of testing and the loss of instructional time but also how the test results will be used and the possibility of inaccurate interpretations that could “undermine our public education system.”

Given the concerns about the potential for the misuse and misinterpretation of spring 2021 data, it is important for measurement professionals to help policymakers understand the potential—as well as the limits—of the spring 2021 assessment data. The Council of Chief State School Officers recently released a report related to the design and interpretation of spring 2021 assessments that partly addresses this goal, but more assistance will be needed, especially as the expected testing dates grow nearer.



I was having difficulty finding the spring newsletter on the NCME site. I was only able to find summer and then 2019.