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DeVos rejects waiver requests for state assessments

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Michigan schools will not get another pass on giving students spring state assessments after U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos told states on Thursday they should not anticipate waivers for the federally-mandated tests, despite the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

On Thursday, officials with the Michigan Department of Education announced that DeVos notified state Superintendent Michael Rice and other state school chiefs that states should not expect any waivers from the federal requirement to administer statewide assessments for the 2020-21 school year.

U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos addresses question from the Detroit News editorial board on Friday, Sep. 20, 2019, as part of her Back To School Tour.

In July, Rice and state Board of Education President Casandra Ulbrich urged DeVos to continue to waive the federal requirements for student assessments and school accountability, saying many students are struggling with the long absence from school as a result of the pandemic.

In March, Ulbrich and Rice made a similar request and won approval to waive tests in the 2019-20 school year due to the pandemic. DeVos and the U.S. Department of Education approved the waivers for Michigan and several other states.

On Thursday, Rice says he agrees with the need to know where children are academically "but strongly disagree(s) with the need to use spring state summative assessments for this purpose" during the pandemic.

"Recent state law requires benchmark assessments in the fall and in the spring of this school year for this purpose," Rice said. "We will be reapplying this winter for federal waivers from statewide summative test administration.”

Educators have said they support the call for waiving state tests, although having no state test scores would mean a lack of data on how students are performing for two school years in a row for Michigan.

Others say waiving assessments again would leave more kids even further behind.

Most districts will be performing local assessments to gauge learning loss from the pandemic and quarterly benchmarking.

Peter Spadafore, deputy executive director of the Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, said DeVos's decision was disappointing.

"The absence of assessment does not equate to the absence of learning. Schools are working overtime to ensure student learning takes place," he said. "The insistence on dedicating class time to test preparation instead of student learning is a bad one and we hope the secretary reconsiders this decision." 

jchambers@detroitnews.com