FILE — In-person pandemic learning

Students in fifth grade wear masks as they wait for their teacher in the classroom at Oak Terrace Elementary School in Highwood, Illinois.

(The Center Square) – The U.S. Department of Education (USED) denied Michigan’s request to waive the federal requirement to administer state summative assessments.

In late January, the Michigan Department of Education cited the COVID-19 pandemic as a reason not to test Michigan’s 1.5 million students. MDE requested waivers to federal requirements for state summative tests,and waivers of associated high-stakes accountability requirements. The accountability waivers were approved on March 26.

USED’s Ian Rosenblum wrote in a letter denying the waivers on Tuesday:

“Obtaining data on student learning includes high-quality statewide assessments, which can help identify where opportunity gaps are persistent and have been exacerbated – particularly during the pandemic – and, along with other data, can help States direct resources and support to close those gaps,” Rosenblum wrote. “At the same time, we must also recognize that we are in the midst of a pandemic that requires real flexibility.”

State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice previously argued the spring would be better spent working with students than testing them.

Rice said the waiver denial was a bad move for students and teachers. 

“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,” Rice said in a statement.

Michigan currently has the highest rates of COVID-19 cases and 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.”

Rice noted the USED canceled its own assessment — the National Assessment of Educational Progress — in November.

Rice alleged USED was more accountable to state testing groups than parents and teachers, and blamed this assessment as a reason why some educators have left the field.

“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?”

Local school districts will be expected to administer the state tests as scheduled. These tests include M-STEP for students in grades 3-8; PSAT 8/9 for students in 8th grade; MME, including 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.

The first M-STEP window for grades 5, 8, and 11 is being extended to May 21. For grades 3, 4, 6, and 7, the second M-STEP window is being extended to June 4. The whole spring 2021 testing schedule can be found here.

Districts must offer remote students the opportunity to take the tests in person but those students won’t be required to come into school solely for the exams.

Staff Reporter

Scott McClallen is a staff writer covering Michigan and Minnesota for The Center Square. A graduate of Hillsdale College, his work has appeared on Forbes.com and FEE.org. Previously, he worked as a financial analyst at Pepsi.