West Virginia’s state schools superintendent said the state is canceling the annual public school statewide standardized testing this spring due to the governor closing down all schools in an effort to contain the coronavirus pandemic.
Superintendent Clayton Burch said testing is off even though the U.S. Education Department hasn’t yet granted or rejected his request that West Virginia be exempted from federal testing and accountability requirements.
In his Tuesday letter to U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Burch simultaneously announced the cancellation and requested a waiver from the rules surrounding it.
“I thank you in advance for your approval of our waiver request based on our decision to suspend 2019-2020 testing,” the letter read.
Burch briefly mentioned during a Friday news conference that his staff had already spoken with a U.S. Education Department official.
“The very first question that we asked from my staff was, is that going to be considered, and our response from the deputy secretary was: You do not worry about assessment and testing during a crisis such as this, let’s worry about the health and safety of our children,” Burch said. “We will deal with those things and we will have to have a plan for those.”
But Burch also said at the time that the federal department hadn’t said testing would be canceled.
Angela Morabito, press secretary for the federal department, said in an email early Wednesday evening that “we’ve been working closely with state and local education leaders, on providing the support and flexibility they need during this national emergency, which includes expanding testing waivers. We will have more details on those additional flexibilities in the coming days.”
Christy Day, the West Virginia Department of Education communications executive director, wrote in an email that the WVDE isn’t sure what the ramifications would be if it doesn’t test and a waiver isn’t granted.
In written guidance issued to states last week, the federal department signaled it may be open to such a waiver.
“Due to the unique circumstances that may arise as a result of COVID-19, such as a school closing during the entire testing window, it may not be feasible for a State to administer some or all of its assessments, in which case the Department would consider a targeted one-year waiver of the assessment requirements for those schools impacted by the extraordinary circumstances,” the federal department wrote.
Day said the WVDE still plans to provide high-schoolers a free SAT college entrance test. Normally they get one free SAT annually because it’s the state’s standardized test for 11th-graders.
Federal law requires states to give public school students in grades three through eight and once in high school annual standardized tests in math and English. Statewide science standardized testing is also required in at least one grade in elementary, middle and high school.
The test results make up much of West Virginia’s school accountability system, which produces the color-coded scorecard ratings and helps identify which public schools receive extra state support to help increase scores.
Regarding how or whether that will continue for this school year, Day wrote “the WVDE is working non-stop with counties to make sure that even as conditions change, the nutritional and instructional needs of our children are properly addressed. The WVDE will turn attention to the issues you raise once the fluidity of the current landscape subsides.”
In his Tuesday letter, Burch predicted schools won’t reopen anytime soon.
“West Virginia students currently will be out of school at least until Friday, March 27, 2020,” Burch wrote. “Most likely, our students will be out of school longer as we are in the early stages of COVID-19. Following the guidance issued by leading medical professionals, we believe that West Virginia will have at least two months until we peak per the COVID Infection Curve from the onset of an outbreak.”
Burch wrote that “should our students return in April or May, the WVDE and our educators believe it is more beneficial to use time during the school day following the reopening of schools to focus on instruction and learning, and not dedicate resources to testing administration this spring.”
According to an email a WVDE staffer wrote to state senators, the WVDE isn’t requiring that the days schools are physically closed due to this be made up, “so long as staff continue to support students and families, which may be accomplished in a variety of ways.”
In a Saturday news release, Gov. Jim Justice said “every effort will be made so that the final school day will be the original date scheduled by the county, so there will be minimal disruption to summer vacations for our students and their families ... our kids will still be learning through a multitude of ways such as online classes or any and every concept our educators can come up with during this closure.”
But the letter from Burch suggests that he and county school system educational leaders don’t think these alternative educational methods are sufficient to teach students both what they need to learn for the tests and what they need to know otherwise.
He wrote that the WVDE and the counties “wish to ensure our students are provided as much time as possible to make up the lost instructional hours. Our goal is to help them meet their grade-level instructional requirements and prepare them for instruction for the following year, not to spend that valuable time testing students on material they have not been taught.”