The U.S. Department of Education (USED) will require states to administer a statewide assessment for the 2020-2021 school year, the agency announced on Feb. 22.

The decision comes after many states have requested a waiver of the testing requirement due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

“To be successful once schools have re-opened, we need to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need,” said Ian Rosenblum, acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education, in a letter to education commissioners throughout the country. “We must also specifically be prepared to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, including by using student learning data to enable states, school districts, and schools to target resources and supports to the students with the greatest needs.”

Instead of canceling the test, USED advises states to pursue other assessment flexibilities, including administering a shortened version of the statewide assessment, which the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) has prepared for in anticipation of the USED decision.

On Feb. 15, KDE released two COVID-19 guidance documents to assist districts in preparing to administer spring testing.

The “COVID-19 Participation in Spring 2021 Kentucky State Testing” guidance document describes federal and state expectations, the rationale for testing and the tentative 2020-2021 testing plan.

The department’s spring 2021 testing plan currently includes flexible test windows, a reduction in the time for assessment administration, where possible, and an option to bring in small groups of full-time virtual students for an in-person assessment. All in-person test administrations should follow the “Guidance on Safety Expectations and Best Practices for Kentucky Schools (K-12)” and the recommendation of local health departments.

KDE also released “Kentucky Summative Assessment Administration Guidance 2020-2021 School Year,” which provides specific guidelines for test administration, test accommodations, safety expectations and staff training for state test administration during the COVID-19 pandemic.

USED offered flexibility with respect to accountability and school identification of Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI), Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) and Additional Targeted Support and Improvement (ATSI) based on data from the 2020-2021 school year.

In January, Kentucky submitted to USED the “Addendum to the ESEA Consolidated State Plan due to the COVID-19 Emergency.” This addendum allows Kentucky to roll forward the dates of identification for ATSI and CSI schools. Neither of these classifications will be identified in the fall of 2021.

Though waivers for assessments are off the table, USED is inviting states to request a waiver of the accountability and school identification requirements in the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA) for the 2020-2021 school year.

KDE currently is seeking a waiver from identifying schools for TSI, a label that designates one or more student groups within a school is performing as poorly as schools in the bottom 5% statewide.

Kentucky only labels TSI schools when it has three consecutive years of testing data to do so. In the spring of 2020, the state received a waiver from federal testing and accountability requirements, which also waived the requirements for the identification of federal classifications, including TSI, in the fall of 2020.

Kentucky cannot identify schools for TSI status in the fall of 2021 because it does not have three consecutive years of accountability data.

If granted the federal waiver, Kentucky would not identify TSI schools until as late as the fall of 2024, due to the three-year reporting requirement.

Education Commissioner Jason E. Glass expressed disappointment with the federal administration for not going further in providing states with greater flexibility when it comes to testing.

“Certainly, we need to understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on basic academic skills, but there are much better ways to go about it than subjecting millions of students to yet another disruption to learning – especially when we know the results from these assessments are going to be questionable at best,” he said. “Kentucky will apply for the waiver on accountability, and plan on giving our districts as much flexibility on testing as we can.”