Molly Spearman disappointed Feds say assessment tests must continue in schools

State - Regional

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCBD) – South Carolina students will have to take end-of-year assessment tests despite a request from the state’s Department of Education to waive them amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Because of obstacles related to the pandemic, State Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman said she felt it was her responsibility to seek a waiver for assessments – often called spring testing – which she submitted to the previous administration in the fall.

She addressed the waiver denial during a virtual news conference on Monday.

“I am disappointed that despite submitting a well thought out plan which would have given actionable testing data to educators and families, the Biden administration has denied South Carolina’s testing waiver request,” she said.

Spearman said they have data from interim assessments, which have been given twice with a third on the way. She said that information gives an immediate response to teachers and administrators to know where students are. They are also using that data to begin “interventions” to assist students in catching up or doing the work they need to be at their full potential.

But while the waiver for student assessments was denied, the Biden administration did grant flexibility in administering assessments and waiving federal accountability requirements.

As a result of the waiver denial and the testing and accountability flexibilities granted by the Biden administration, South Carolina College-and Career-Ready Assessments (SC READY) in English language arts and mathematics (grades 3-8), South Carolina Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (SCPASS) in science (grades 4 and 6), and End-of-Course examinations in Biology, Algebra, U.S. History and the Constitution, and English will be offered to all students. English Language Proficiency and alternate assessments will also be administered to students who meet the requisite criteria.

According to the state’s Department of Education, since the USDE has approved the waiver surrounding the 95% testing requirement and other accountability measures related to end-of-the-year testing, there will be no penalty at the student, teacher, school, district or state level for a student who does not complete the applicable assessment(s).

The USDE said they “do not believe that if there are places where students are unable to attend school safely in person because of the pandemic that they should be brought into school buildings for the sole purpose of taking a test.”

If a family believes it is unsafe for their child to attend school in person to take assessments, the SCDE and school districts will not require them to do so.

“While we encourage all students to participate, we are relying on and empowering families to make the best decision for their child when it comes to end-of-the-year tests,” said Spearman. “If a family determines that it is unsafe for a student to attend school for the sole purpose of taking a test, we will not penalize them, their teacher, or their school.”

For any student who does not participate in testing, school districts will continue to use interim assessment data to inform instruction, intervention, summer learning, and learning loss/unfinished learning plans for 2021-22 and beyond.

The state assessment window will open on  April 15 and all districts must offer the assessments within the last thirty days of the school year.

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