US Dept. of Education Guidance to States on Assessing Student Learning During the Pandemic

Published: February 26, 2021

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Analysis of the U.S. Department of Education's issued guidance concerning statewide assessments during the COVID-19 pandemic.

On February 22, 2021 the US Department of Education issued guidance concerning statewide assessments of student learning during the pandemic. The press release discussed the element of flexibility in educational assessments as well as the need for data collection to understand student growth and progress. For more information on the DOE press release concerning assessment guidance please go here.

The Department stated that it supports to use the assessment data as a "source of information for parents and educators to target resources and support, rather than for accountability purposes this year." What this looks like is various flexibility measures permitted by the Department of Education. The guidance on assessment administration includes: 

  • Extending the testing window and moving assessments to the summer or fall,
  • Giving the assessment remotely, where feasible,
  • Shortening the state assessment, to make testing more feasible to implement and prioritize in-person learning time.

An important element to assessments is that each system looks different in every state. There are requirements coming from the Federal Government concerning grade levels, content areas, and frequency of testing but there is already a 'hands-off' approach to assessment driven results. As every state's learner demographic is unique it permits each state to create a system that works for their student progress. Adding more levels to flexibility in assessment can potentially allow for diversity in markets and vendors to have a new approach to testing or reduce the reliance on testing to determine student achievement.

Over the last five years, states have begun to focus on student driven programs around student success, career and technical education, STEM curriculum, and workforce development to add more to achieving success rather than test scores. There are also good market indicators that the use of professional services is a predominant way at targeting specific student populations, gearing students for success after secondary education, and understanding there is more to school than its content. 

With these flexibilities extending the testing window allows for more dispersed testing timeframes, remote assessments will be especially helpful to larger districts facing significant difficulties in reopening, and shortening state assessments could allow for smaller and more niche based contracts with vendors. The press release issued by the US Department of Education did not give much guidance in the way of alternate assessments for students with disabilities. This will be a major concern moving forward as this student base is not as flexible.