Trump Admin Unlikely to Grant States Another Waiver for Standardized Tests

September 4, 2020 Updated: September 4, 2020

States should not expect federally-mandated standardized tests to be waived like they were in the spring, as the CCP virus pandemic interrupted education plans, U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said.

In March, the U.S. Department of Education granted waivers to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Bureau of Indian Education, excusing those jurisdictions from testing requirements as they started closing schools. Under the Every Student Succeeds Act—the main federal law that governs K-12 education—states must test all students for English language arts, math, and science every year from grades three through eight and once in high school.

In a Thursday letter (pdf) to chief state school officers, DeVos said that it was the right move to grant nationwide testing waivers the past spring, considering the limited information available about the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus at the time and the need to stop its spread. For the 2020-21 school year, however, the states “should not anticipate such waivers being granted again.”

“There is general agreement among the public that a student’s achievement should be measured, that parents deserve to know how their children are performing, and that it should be no secret how a school’s performance as a whole compares to other schools,” DeVos wrote.

To support her position, DeVos cited a survey by the Data Quality Campaign from late April and early May, which suggested that nearly 90 percent of parents want information about how school closures affect students, and 77 percent of parents agree that states should resume assessments in math and reading in 2021 to better understand how well schools and students are meeting academic standards in the wake of the pandemic.

“Make no mistake. If we fail to assess students, it will have a lasting effect for years to come,” DeVos warned, adding that labor unions are continuing their effort to permanently eliminate standardized testing. “If they succeed in eliminating assessments, transparency and accountability will soon follow.”

The fate of federally mandated assessment tests largely depend on the outcome of the presidential election in November. Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, who has been endorsed by many powerful teachers’ unions, pledged last year to abolish standardized testing if he were elected president.

Biden made the commitment when he was asked during a MSNBC Public Education Forum if he would consider ending the use of standardized testing in public schools because of its “history of racism and eugenics,” saying that “teachers should be able to determine the curricula in their schools.”

“I’m not trying to be nice,” said Biden at that time. “There’s some lousy teachers out there, ok? There’s lousy politicians. There’s lousy senators. There’s lousy doctors. I’m not saying every teacher is a great teacher. What I am saying is: You know what it takes to communicate to a child what in fact they need to now.”