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STATEMENT: The US Department of Education Must Refrain From Issuing Waivers of ESSA’s Testing Requirements, CAP’s Khalilah Harris Says

Washington, D.C. — Khalilah Harris, acting vice president of K-12 Education Policy at the Center for American Progress, released the following statement today regarding waivers of annual student assessment requirements in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA):

At its heart, the Every Student Succeeds Act is a civil rights bill designed to support gaps in opportunity too many of our students have faced historically through to the present. One way it does that is by ensuring that states annually assess all students against the same standards for learning and analyze results by student groups to ensure that students who have been historically marginalized are not experiencing widening gaps in opportunity.

These assessments were canceled across the country last year when schools closed to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This was the right choice. The health and safety of students and school personnel should always be prioritized.

However, we are currently in a different moment. Stories in the media and reports on local assessment results show troubling data about the realities of remote schooling: Millions of students are not getting an opportunity to learn. Studies of local test results caution that millions of students who are especially vulnerable to the impacts of COVID-19 are missing from the data.

Now more than ever, we need to understand how students are performing against the common metric of state academic standards so that we may understand what schools and educators need to enhance and enrich their learning. That is why the U.S. Department of Education must refrain from issuing waivers of ESSA’s requirements for standardized year-end assessments. The department should instead offer limited flexibilities on a case-by-case basis, along with supports such as additional guidance and technical assistance—all of which can be provided without issuing waivers. The department should also be flexible on school accountability and not use assessment data for this purpose.

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