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Standardized tests for Washington students delayed until fall 2021

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Standardized exams for public school kids in Washington state will be delayed until the fall, state schools Superintendent Chris Reykdal announced Wednesday.

Reykdal said his agency made the decision after learning the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) was not keen on his proposal to test only a representative sample of kids this spring to minimize disruption as many school districts reopen. The fall exams will be administered to the typical number of students, about 700,000. Kids will take the exam for the grade they were in the previous year.

“They were seeking to test as many students as possible this spring, and we know this approach did not support the mental health of Washington’s students; nor is it the best use of our limited remaining in-person instructional hours this spring,” Reykdal wrote in a press release.

The decision does not affect the exams offered to English learners, or students with significant cognitive disabilities. Students have already begun taking those exams.

In light of the pandemic, the feds encouraged states to be creative in how districts assessed students this year but have declined several states’ bids to cancel, replace or dramatically change the exams. The federal department has faced backlash in those places, including in Michigan, whose state superintendent called DOE’s denial of his testing waiver request “indefensible.”

In Oregon, officials unsuccessfully proposed replacing the statewide exams with tests offered by school districts. The state then modified its waiver request and proposed to offer tests for all students — but only in certain subjects, similar to the plan in Colorado, which federal officials approved. Portland Public Schools announced this week it was not going to administer tests to students altogether, risking legal repercussions by the federal government.

DOE had not formally rejected Washington’s plan, but state officials decided to withdraw their waiver request after receiving feedback this month that implied the proposal may not be approved. Reykdal, who has advocated for deemphasizing standardized tests, said the federal agency suggested a plan similar to Colorado’s, which would offer tests to students but not in all subjects, essentially cutting testing in half. But Reykdal said it would be impractical to pull it off this spring because the feds would also require the state to assess students in other subjects if their families requested it.

Since Washington state’s testing window normally falls in the spring, it’s unclear if this will mean that students will take two tests next school year. Reykdal said he is exploring the idea of moving future assessments to the fall, but cautioned this had not been decided yet.

High school students hoping to use their exam scores in order to qualify for graduation can still use the fall assessments to do so. If their scores aren’t high enough, they can pursue other pathways to graduate under state policy.

There are other broader impacts to the decision to withdraw the request. State officials had proposed supplementing the limited state exams with assessments used at the school district level, like literacy tests. Since that plan is no longer on the table, the state won’t require districts to submit the scores, only to share what types of exams they used.

And since it will be taking place in the fall instead, students will be a few additional months removed from the previous school year, which some researchers had hoped to measure in light of the impacts of remote learning on students.

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