In a surprising turn of events, the Biden Administration is following in the Trump Administration’s footsteps by requiring state assessments for the 2020-21 school year.
A letter from the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) announced that assessments will be required for the school year. The DOE will allow states to request waivers that would exempt them from using results for school accountability purposes. Moreover, assessments may be shortened, offered remotely, or the window in which administered may be expanded, to encourage more participation. These waivers create flexibility while still generating data for parents, educators, and students in an effort to illuminate the learning loss during the past year.
State assessment data is necessary to determine where state and federal funding should be routed to remediate the educational impact of COVID-19.
Recent research predicts significant learning loss in students who were moved to virtual environments. The research estimates students who remained in learning situations present in the fall would lose an average of 9 months of learning; 11-12 months for students of color, and 7-8 months for white students. Surveys have illustrated that teachers were not prepared to teach virtually, a significant portion of students did not log in to complete assignments, and there was a marked decrease in new material introduced. Extensive learning loss has led the Administration to the conclusion that state assessments are necessary to measure the loss.
Support for administering state assessments this school year is diverse and widespread. The federal requirement received bipartisan support in the U.S. House and Senate, with particular concern for up-to-date data. Advocacy organizations across the nation have also voiced support for state assessments including the National Urban League, National Alliance For Public Charter Schools, National Center for Learning Disabilities, and more.
Normally, state assessment results are used for district and school accreditation ratings. If results are not used for accountability measures, Colorado voters echoed support for state assessments in 2020-21. A survey by the Colorado Education Association (CEA) saw 58% of respondents disapprove of administering assessments. However, a survey commissioned by Democrats for Education Reform, Colorado Succeeds, and Ready Colorado, revealed 62% support for state assessments. The poll also saw answers change depending on how the question was asked. Only 44% of respondents supported testing initially, but if told assessment results would not impact school accountability ratings, support rose to 62% in favor.
Controversy surrounding state assessments is not new. Data from 2015 illustrates a sizable rate of parents who opt-out their children out of state assessments. The problem has been exacerbated this year. Denver Public Schools board member Tay Anderson is encouraging parents to opt-out of state testing. The effects of this could continue to hamper efforts to learn the extent of the learning loss in the state.
The Governor’s Office has stated that assessments remain critical to measure student learning and help students. Yet Colorado state legislators have a divided stance on this year’s assessments. Following the new Administration’s announcement, House Bill 21-1161 was introduced to direct the Colorado Department of Education (CDE) to request a federal waiver to lessen the number of state assessments. If adopted, the legislation will suspend certain assessments based on grade levels and school subjects. The impact of this bill will create a partial look at student performance, but it will not give legislators and the public comprehensive data.
School districts have implemented classroom-level assessments, but the results are not public. To make sure our students are prepared for a successful life, it is absolutely essential that Colorado policymakers and the public have a pulse on the level of learning loss so that policy is shaped accordingly. Advocacy organizations that support Colorado’s most vulnerable children want to ensure resources are expedited to the most in need. Data provided by state assessments will yield long-term benefits for Colorado’s children—and for the state.
Brandon Richardson is an education policy intern at the Independence Institute. He will graduate from UCCS in May with a double major in political science and economics.
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