HARRISBURG - The state Department of Education will allow schools to postpone standardized tests until the fall, Deputy Secretary of Education Matthew Stem told members of the House education committee.
Stem said that state officials intend to extend the window in which schools give their standardized tests to avoid “forcing teachers into school buildings if they are doing remote learning.”
The announcement came a day after the U.S. Department of Education announced that schools wouldn’t be allowed to skip standardized tests entirely, despite many schools offering classes remotely for much of the year.
"The Department of Education is committed to supporting all states in assessing student learning during the pandemic to help target resources and support to the students with the greatest needs," said Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education for the U.S. Department of Education. "We also recognize that at a time when everything in our education system is different, there need to be different ways that states can administer state tests, like moving them to the fall so that precious in-person learning time this year can be spent on instruction,” he said.
The federal guidance allows states to provide local schools with more time to conduct their standardized tests and the state Department of Education is taking advantage of that flexibility, Stem said.
The state’s move is being welcomed by the teachers union, said Rich Askey, president of the Pennsylvania State Education Association.
“While we clearly prefer a federal waiver of annual assessments just as the U.S. Department of Education offered last year, PSEA welcomes the Pennsylvania Department of Education’s plan to provide school districts with needed time and flexibility to address the logistics of annual standardized testing during the pandemic,” Askey said. “For the remainder of the 2020-21 school year, educators and students will be able to spend more time focused on teaching and learning, rather than losing vital classroom days to testing this spring,” he said.
Federal law requires states to test students each year in subjects including math and reading as a way to gauge schools’ progress and to identify learning disparities among different groups of students.
The Trump administration allowed all states to forgo tests last year, but then-Education Secretary Betsy DeVos rejected calls to issue another blanket waiver for this year.
The announcements come as school officials have begun bracing for the challenge of trying to help children catch up academically, Stem said.
The state hasn’t done any specific research to determine the scope of that challenge but national research suggests that students with disabilities, English as a Second Language students, and elementary-aged students will likely fall behind more due to the challenges of remote-learning, Stem said.
He said that schools are exploring their options for trying to help students who have fallen behind, though likely alternatives will include additional summer programs.
If it’s passed in its current form, President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package is projected to provide another $2.2 billion for Pennsylvania schools, according to state projections.
Education officials expect that local schools will consider using some of that money to help students catch up, Stem said.