CLEVELAND — Despite the ongoing pandemic and the patchwork of different learning environments around Ohio and the country, the U.S. Department of Education has notified states that annual standardized testing of students must resume this spring. Coming as a surprise to some and angering others, the decision by the Biden administration comes as Ohio lawmakers consider seeking a stay on both federal and state-mandated testing.
In a Feb. 22 letter sent to top state education leaders and governors, U.S. Department of Education officials said states needed to administer the standardized tests and report the results. In March 2020, that requirement was waived by the federal government as the country was in the throes of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Although the federal testing requirement does come with some concessions, including shorter tests, fewer tests, and the possibility of remote testing, federal officials said the mandate is needed in order to acquire data on how impactful the pandemic has been on education and potential inequities between students.
"We have to be sensitive to the needs of all the people in the United States and, right now, that's not a sensitive concern by making that declaration that testing is going to continue," said State Rep. Juanita Brent, the 12th district democrat whose district includes Cuyahoga County. "To say that we are still going to have federal testing, it is very insensitive. It's not a 'one-size-fits-all' for all Americans. Kids have basically at this point are just going to back to in-person learning."
Brent said she understands the need for the U.S. Department of Education to obtain data on the pandemic's impact upon education but would only support testing if it was limited to that intent. State Rep. Joe Miller, a Democrat whose district includes Lorain County, said he also supported the local control the federal government's directive allows. However, given the fact that each district has approached the pandemic differently and the sheer time and resources that testing requires, there are simply too many variables right now.
There are still lingering questions on how the testing would be administered, where it would be administered, and the extent to which testing would be administered.
"I know that was something that they gave in the flexibility piece from the federal government but I don't see that as being viable in this particular point in time," Miller, a former educator, said. "I think that state tests have too many resources behind them for as little as they are utilized for. We put way too much time behind them. Then we have added a punishment element to districts with report cards and teachers with their teacher evaluations."
If testing were to be resumed as normal, the consequences could be severe, especially on already distressed school districts, including East Cleveland and Lorain city schools.
"People need to ask the teachers and the parents, 'how are we going to administrate this?' Some parents are not sending their kids back to school at all. Are you going to allow these students to take the test at home?" Brent said. "What are you going to do with the staff? We have certain school districts that do not have adequate amount of staff members that are showing up. On top of that, we're going to talk about having a test? On top of all of that? We have to support our teachers in every way possible and waving this state-mandated test is a way of telling our teachers that we support you."
Additionally, Miller said a sudden shift back to testing preparations would take valuable time away from teachers that are trying to get students caught up on curriculum.
Miller also said assessments are already done on a continuous basis inside the classroom.
"We teachers, that's what we did. We would set up our curriculum based on our assessments," Miller said. "We did all that. That's how you can see if you are building the knowledge and skillsets to continue on. That's already being done."
Ohio state representatives may soon consider House Bill 67, which would require the Ohio Dept. of Education to request a waiver for all federally mandated tests as well as remove the requirement for the state to administer its mandated tests for this current school year. The bill has had three hearings before the Primary and Secondary Education Committee. However, its outlook of being passed before the testing window opens in mid-March does not look promising, Miller said.
"I'd be shocked if we got something to the governor's desk before all the schools have administered these tests and wasted that time," Miller said.