Biden Admin Orders States to Give Standardized Tests, but With Tweaks

February 23, 2021 Updated: February 23, 2021

The U.S. Department of Education said Monday that it will not allow states to skip the federally mandated standardized tests this year, but will give them some flexibility.

In March 2020, the Education Department granted waivers to all 50 states, excusing them from testing requirements as they started closing schools due to the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus outbreak. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act—the main federal law that governs K-12 education—states must test all students for English, math, and science every year from grades three through eight and once in high school.

In the Feb. 22 letter (pdf) to states, the department said that states will not receive “blanket waivers of assessments” like last year. However, the department said it would allow states to move tests to the summer or fall, or they can offer shortened versions of tests or administer the tests online.

In addition, the department told states that they can apply to be exempted from certain accountability measures tied to the test results, including the federal mandate to identify low-performing schools.

“It is urgent to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning,” Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant secretary in the office of elementary and secondary education, wrote in the letter. “We know, however, that some schools and school districts may face circumstances in which they are not able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices.”

The Biden administration’s decision to press forward with annual state assessments faced push back from major teachers’ unions. The American Federation of Teachers (AFT), the second largest teachers’ union in the United States, called it a “frustrating turn.”

“We have always known that standardized tests are not the best way to measure a child’s development, nor do they particularly help kids or inform best practices for teaching and learning,” said Randi Weingarten, the AFT’s president. “That is especially true in these unprecedented times.”

The New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), a 600,000-member teachers’ union that has called on the state to request a federal waiver of testing requirements, also said on Feb. 23 that it “strongly rebuked” the standardized testing in schools amid the CCP virus pandemic.

“In a year that has been anything but standard, mandating that students take standardized tests just doesn’t make sense,” NYSUT President Andy Pallotta said. “As the educators in the classroom, we have always known that standardized tests are not the best way to measure a child’s development, and they are especially unreliable right now. We need to ensure that our students who have been hit hardest during the pandemic receive the support they need. Sizing up students with inequitable and stressful exams is not the solution.”