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State schools can delay standardized testing until fall

Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts will have the option to delay federally mandated standardized tests until fall.

The Department of Education confirmed over the weekend it drafted a letter to the federal government indicating that its schools can reschedule the assessments for the summer or fall in light of the pandemic.

“Since the start of this pandemic, our work has been centered on protecting the health and safety of students, educators, and school staff across the state,” acting Secretary of Education Noe Ortega said. “Our decision to extend the testing window continues to prioritize their health and safety and creates needed flexibilities for our unique school communities.”

The announcement comes after the U.S. Department of Education recommended states consider the idea if they were concerned about the impact of pandemic on the ability for students to complete the assessments. States could also offer the tests online or offer shorter exams.

The Pennsylvania State Education Association, the state’s largest teachers’ union, expressed disappointment over the news, hoping that the federal government would have instead issued a waiver for tests this year.

“As we wrote in a joint letter to our federal elected officials in January, we believe that if we truly want schools and educators to focus on learning recovery, we shouldn’t be administering standardized tests at all this year,” said President Rich Askey. “Our students have already lost too much classroom instructional time.”

In the letter, PDE opts against a blanket waiver, preferring instead to push the academic achievement and English language proficiency tests until September “to ensure that a larger, more representative sample of students can participate; reflect the differential effects of the pandemic … and provide PDE with the opportunity to continue collaborating with its Technical Advisory Committee and assessment vendors to ensure that assessment results have the greatest possible utility as our education community engages in the hard work of long-term education recovery.”

Askey said that despite the decision, he “welcomes” the department’s plan to give districts time and flexibility to “address the logistics of annual standardized testing during the pandemic.”

“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. “This important flexibility will ultimately require strategies at the local level to complete testing this summer or fall. It is our hope that this approach could offer safer conditions for the administration of assessments.”

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