Waiving standardized tests for 2020-21 might be complicated for central Ohio schools

Stephen Borgna
ThisWeek group

Recent actions requested by the Worthington school board – when it approved a resolution Feb. 22 that asks the Ohio General Assembly to ensure all standardized testing is waived statewide for the remainder of the 2020-21 academic year because of the ongoing COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic – might seem simple.

But below the surface, there's an iceberg.

The resolution, which also supports a standardized-testing waiver from the U.S. Department of Education, noted that the board supports both state House Bill 40 and House Bill 67.

Both H.B. 40 and H.B. 67 – proposed by state Reps. Lisa Sobecki (D-Toledo) and Jeff Crossman (D-Parma), and Reps. Adam Bird (R-New Richmond) and Kyle Koehler (R-Springfield), respectively, in early February – as-written would cancel state-administered standardized tests for the rest of the academic year and require the Ohio Department of Education to request a waiver for federal tests.

But as of Feb. 23, neither of those bills has been advanced by the Ohio House of Representatives, and both, as written, appear in doubt after the U.S. Department of Education informed schools the week of Feb. 22 that although it would offer states flexibility for standardized testing, schools nationwide would not be exempt.

Standardized tests were canceled throughout the state last year after the outbreak of the pandemic, as schools suddenly pivoted to remote learning.

Worthington Schools serves the Worthington community.

Worthington school board member Sam Shim said the board does not believe standardized testing this year is necessary nor imperative, given Worthington Schools' ongoing hybrid-learning procedures. 

“We’re trying to maximize our use of time for the rest of the year, trying to maximize learning,” Shim said. “We believe this year we don’t need standardized testing, and, especially this year, we need extra time for learning.

"And the test results don’t come in for many months. It doesn’t do us any good.”

According to the Worthington resolution, the board also is concerned about the health risks associated with coordinating standardized testing procedures and administering the tests in person.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has created instructional challenges and forced educators to quickly adapt to new practices during the 2020-2021 school year and ... the administration of standardized tests may create additional, unnecessary health risks to students and District staff," the resolution said.

Worthington Schools financial-services administrative secretary Jennifer Kehlmeier said the district had planned to send the resolution to Gov. Mike DeWine and state senators and representatives Feb. 23.

The Dublin school board approved a similar resolution Feb. 22. That resolution calls for the same as the Worthington resolution and also expresses support for both bills.

"The Board of Education urges the State of Ohio to not require the Spring 2021 statewide standardized assessments to be given and the Ohio Department of Education to apply to the U.S. Department of Education for a waiver from federal standardized testing requirements. And the Board fully supports House Bills 67 and 40, which would do exactly those two things," the Dublin resolution said.

Both resolutions came as many districts statewide have been seeking an exemption from standardized testing.

Koehler said he has heard that sentiment from his 79th House District and around Ohio. 

“Teachers and the schools would like – if their students come back full time on March 1 like (Gov. Mike DeWine) has requested – that they don’t spend a large portion (of the remainder of the school year) testing their students,” he said. “They would rather be teaching their students the information they’re going to need for the coming year.”

As of Feb. 23, Koehler said, H.B. 67 and H.B. 40 were both active and were still in committee with no definite timetable for their passage.

Koehler said on Feb. 23, legislators were analyzing the bill in committee due to temporary exemptions surrounding standardized-testing procedures recently presented by the U.S. Department of Education and its decision not to grant states testing exemptions.

Lawmakers would need to adapt the bills to fit those circumstances, he said.

“We’re trying to digest what the federal government has decided to do," Koehler said. "If they hadn’t come out with this, I was ready to push for this bill to be passed as quickly as possible.

"The changes by the federal government and what they’re doing sort of made us have to look at the bill again to make sure we’re doing what we need to do to have it mean anything at all to this school year.”

A letter on behalf of Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education at the U.S. Department of Education, that was sent to the Ohio Department of Education and provided by the ODE to ThisWeek said the states would have a few options they could consider surrounding standardized testing, but the department will not be “inviting blanket waivers of assessments.”

According to the letter, those options include administering a shortened test, offering “remote administration, where feasible” and/or “extending the testing window to the greatest extent practicable.”

The U.S. Department of Education is allowing states to request waivers this academic year from the “accountability and school-identification requirements” in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, according to the letter. Those requirements largely pertain to aggregating student performance data on tests, reporting it and using it to measure learning progress and shape long-term district goals.

ODE chief communications officer Mandy Minick said the department intends to look into applying for one of these waivers in the near future, pending whether Ohio is eligible and if those flexibilities would be of benefit to districts across the state.

In a statement on behalf of the ODE, Minick said, “We look forward to receiving the U.S. Department of Education’s accountability waiver template and identifying those flexibilities for which Ohio may be eligible.”

Shim said although it would be ideal for standardized tests to be waived this spring, delaying them until afterward would be the next best bet. 

"I don’t believe this is an insurmountable obstacle," he said of the U.S. Department of Education's mandates. "We just don’t believe they should take the tests in the spring."

Check ThisWeekNEWS.com for updates to this developing story.

ThisWeek reporter Kevin Corvo contributed to this story.

sborgna@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekSteve