After receiving a message from the U.S. Department of Education that its plan to waive all standardized tests this year would “not likely be approved,” the Oregon Department of Education requested an amended assessment waiver Thursday.
With thousands of Oregon students recently returning to school buildings for the first time in over a year, and students returning in smaller groups with new schedules, ODE Director Colt Gill told Acting Assistant Secretary Ian Rosenblum that there are several barriers to the state being able to provide “sufficient secure test administration on-site in Oregon schools.”
“These factors substantially interfere with our ability to conduct a complete statewide assessment process, yet we acknowledge ED’s expectation that statewide summative assessments must be administered,” Gill wrote in the April 1 letter.
The federal government requires public schools in Oregon and across the country to administer approved assessments to students in grades 3-8, and at least once in high school. The testing requirements were largely waived for the 2019-20 school year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but federal education officials have emphasized flexibility this year, rather than dropping the tests for a second year in a row.
The new proposal from Gill would require testing only in one or two subjects, instead of three. For students in grades 3-6, testing would only be required in one subject.
All assessments in English Language Arts, Mathematics and Science would be available for families who choose to have their child participate in all assessments.
Tests would be shorter than they have been in past years.
ODE will also encourage school districts to use the Student Educational Equity Development Survey, a new survey that asks students about access to education and sense of belonging.
In an April 1 message sent to Superintendents, ODE officials said the plan would likely meet the U.S. Department of Education’s criteria. ODE is also submitting another request that, if approved, would not require ODE to use test data to identify schools in need of improvement, or require schools, districts, or states to have 95% participation.
But in the letter requesting an amended waiver, Gill shared testing concerns “unique to Oregon.” He pointed out the timing of the test with many Oregon schools only now returning to in-person instruction, as well as Oregon’s permissive opt-out laws.
“While we will put forward a good faith effort to offer and require assessments this school year, I expect opt-outs to increase significantly in our state,” Gill wrote.
“This creates concern for the carryover impact on meeting future participation requirements and the ways that will impact needed investments in teaching and learning for our students.”
Gill noted that local efforts to broadly opt-out are “quickly gaining steam.”
At least one school district, Ashland, had planned to have parents “opt-in” to state assessments, but according to ODE, “having parents opt-in to state assessments is a violation of Division 22 requirements,” and would require district officials to acknowledge that and submit a “corrective action plan” for the 2021-2022 school year. The resolution passed by the Ashland school board would only be in effect for state tests in the 2020-2021 school year.
Parents can still opt-out of testing by submitting a form, though parents must go through a different process to opt-out of science and other assessments.
The state is accepting public comment on its amended waiver request until Friday, April 9.
The state testing window opens April 13 and closes June 11, an expanded window to “provide districts and schools some additional flexibility.”