Michigan requests U.S. Dept. of Education waive standardized testing for 2020-21 school year

Michigan requested on Monday that standardized testing be waived for the 2020-2021 school year after a school year marked with instruction inconsistency and difficulty due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The Michigan Department of Education submitted the request to the U.S. Department of Education to allow schools to prioritize beginning and end of year benchmark assessments to ensure students are on track with their education and pause federally mandated testing.

Michigan can't safely and uniformly administer a fair standardized test, state Superintendent Michael Rice said in the request. An inconsistent internet connection and distracting home environments make online test-taking unfair and accommodations for those with language barriers or disabilities are more difficult to provide during the pandemic.

Last March, as virus cases grew and schools moved online, then-U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos allowed Michigan to waive standardized testing for the 2019-2020 school year. Near the end of her tenure, as waivers were being requested again, she told chief state school officers in a letter that standardized testing is expected for the 2020-2021 school year.

This year, the state will administer benchmark tests to as many students as safely possible, Rice said. Time would be better spent using benchmark tests to help teachers in individual schools to know how to approach classes moving forward at their specific schools.

The Michigan Education Association, which represents about 120,000 teachers and other education professionals, supports waiving standardized testing. MEA President Paula Herbart said in a statement Monday that the federal government and the state Legislature should allow students to catch up on what they might have missed during the pandemic.

"Amidst this pandemic, we simply cannot waste valuable learning time on high-stakes standardized testing," Herbart said. "Mandated standardized testing like the M-STEP does not provide educators the data needed to meet individual student learning needs in real-time, which is what we need to be laser-focused on right now."

The Every Student Succeeds Act requires 95% of eligible students to take standardized tests or states could lose federal funding. Rice said it is unclear when a majority of students would be able to attend in-person instruction and take a test.

"We find our efforts are better focused on providing supports for the academic and social-emotional needs of our students, rather than using limited in-person time with students in preparation for and administration of state summative assessments," Rice said. "We believe data from these assessments will help educators identify students' strengths and weaknesses and design instruction to best support student learning during this unprecedented season."