The Education Department said Monday that it will not allow states to forgo federally required standardized testing in schools this year but will give them flexibility to delay testing or hold it online during the pandemic.
Aiming for a middle ground in a polarized debate, the Biden administration said states must continue with annual testing but can apply to be exempted from certain accountability measures tied to the results.
States also will be allowed to move tests to the summer or fall, or they can offer shortened tests or online assessments.
In a letter to state education chiefs on Monday, Ian Rosenblum, an acting assistant education secretary, said testing will help schools understand the impact of the pandemic and how to help students.
“In addition, parents need information on how their children are doing,” he said.
The move aligns with proposals from Democrats who have pushed for testing to identify and address learning setbacks, but who say schools should not be penalized for falling short of goals. But it was blasted by Republicans and by some teachers unions.
The American Federation of Teachers, one of the nation’s major teachers unions, called it a “frustrating turn.” Randi Weingarten, the union’s president, said federal tests should have been canceled and replaced by locally created evaluations.
“We have always known that standardized tests are not the best way to measure a child’s development, nor do they particularly help kids or inform best practices for teaching and learning,” Weingarten said. “That is especially true in these unprecedented times.”
States including New York and Michigan previously said they would apply to be waived from testing this year, and several other states signaled plans to follow. Republicans in Congress also opposed testing and called for a blanket exemption for all states.
Federal law requires states to test students each year in subjects including math and reading as a way to gauge schools’ progress and to identify learning disparities among different groups of students.
The Trump administration allowed all states to forgo tests last year, but then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rejected calls to issue another blanket waiver for this year.
In a September letter to state education chiefs, DeVos said parents deserve to know how their children are performing even during a pandemic. Failing to test would “have a lasting effect for years to come,” she wrote.