The U.S. Department of Education is working with states on a variety of measures related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
One measure would allow exemptions to federal assessment accountability requirements. Below is what TEA released on March 13, 2020, based on its communications with federal officials regarding testing.
The first state testing day is April 7, 2020. The agency is reviewing logistical options. Generally, there is far more flexibility when testing online than on paper. At this point, districts and charters who anticipate the possibility of being closed on a testing date should begin planning for the possibility of scaling up online assessment in the event alternative testing dates might be required.
According to the USDE Fact Sheet: Impact of COVID-19 on Assessments and Accountability under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, distributed March 12, 2020, USDE will allow waivers of assessment requirements, as well as accountability determinations (note the bold, italic sections below highlighting important points).
Section 8401 of the ESEA (20 U.S.C. § 7861) permits the Secretary to grant waivers of certain ESEA requirements and, thus, allows the Department to provide some flexibility to schools, districts, and States that may be necessary due to the impact of COVID-19 on the provision of educational services. References to waivers in the paragraphs below refer to such 8401 waivers. Please note that States with Education Flexibility (Ed-Flex) program authority are not authorized to waive statutory or regulatory requirements related to standards, assessments, and accountability under section 1111 of the ESEA. The Department may, however, consider such waivers under the section 8401 waiver authority.
The Education Department generally does not grant statewide waivers of assessment requirements under section 1111(b)(2) of the ESEA. The reason is that assessments provide important information to parents, educators, and the public about how well students are doing at mastering a State’s content for each tested grade and subject. In cases where a school has been closed for a period of time, the assessment results still provide useful information about where individual students and groups of students will need support in the following school year. However, due to the unique circumstances that may arise as a result of COVID-19, such as a school closing during the entire testing window, it may not be feasible for a State to administer some or all of its assessments, in which case the Department would consider a targeted one-year waiver of the assessment requirements for those schools impacted by the extraordinary circumstances. States with schools that must close due to the COVID-19 may also want to consider whether it is possible to adjust or extend the testing window to accommodate as many students as possible, including students in schools that were closed for some period.
The ESEA affords each State the flexibility to design, within certain statutory parameters, an accountability system that best meets the needs of the State. Accordingly, impact from COVID-19 will affect each State’s accountability system differently. If needed, the Department would consider a targeted one-year waiver of the requirement to identify a school for comprehensive or targeted support and improvement if the reason for the identification was related to the school being closed for a significant portion of the school year.
A State may be able to administer its assessments and may have data that it considers sufficient to produce accountability determinations but still require some flexibility around other components of its accountability system. Below we identify two areas that are most likely to be impacted by COVID-19, though we recognize that each State has a unique accountability system and that there may be other affected areas as well.
The ESEA requires that all students in the tested grades be assessed annually and requires that, when calculating the Academic Achievement indicator, the denominator be based on the number of students assessed in reading/language arts and mathematics or 95% of the student population, whichever is greater. We recognize that students may be absent during the test window, leading to a participation rate below 95%. In such a case, the Department would consider a targeted one-year waiver for an impacted school to not factor the participation rate into its Academic Achievement indicator.
In addition to the potential impact on assessment and accountability systems, we recognize that districts could face challenges meeting certain ESEA fiscal requirements, such as: maintenance of effort; the requirement to obligate funds in the current Federal fiscal year for providing equitable services to eligible private school students, teachers, and families; and the limitation on carrying over no more than 15 percent of Title I, Part A funds. Should any of these issues or other topics be a concern, we encourage you to reach out to your contacts in the Department so that we can assist you. In addition, while this fact sheet focuses only on ESEA assessments and accountability, as earlier noted, the Department has created a website dedicated to COVID-19 information as it relates to many of our other programs at: https://www.ed.gov/coronavirus. USDE will regularly update this page as more information and resources become available.