S.C. testing waiver request denied, flexibility granted for parents and schools

End-of-year testing to go on as planned in S.C.

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WBTV) - South Carolina Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman says the request to waive the summative assessment at the end of this school year was denied.

Spearman said that they sent in two waivers to the U.S. Department of Education. They first asked that the end-of the-year assessment be waived and the second asked that requested to waive a surrounding 95% testing requirement.

The end-of-year assessment will go forward as planned, but Spearman said the the 95% testing requirement surrounding the end-of-year assessments will be waived.

They say there will be no penalty at the student, teacher, school, district or state level for a student who does not complete the applicable assessments.

Those four words--assessments and accountability system-- are ones teachers dread hearing even in a normal year. However, in a year where students are either in the classroom or online, teachers think it is the worst time to have tests.

”It’s honestly soul-crushing preparing for standardized test in a regular year and with this year that’s magnified,” says Pete Stone, a Chester County teacher.

He says he has seen how these tests affect students.

”I don’t think there’s any worst way to decide the worth of a human being by how they choose A, B, C or D on some standardized test,” he says.

The state assessment window will open April 15 and schools will have 30 days to finish those tests.

South Carolina briefing on end-of-year student assessments

HAPPENING NOW: South Carolina education leaders are answering questions related to student end-of-year assessments. https://bit.ly/2O6m6UI

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“I am disappointed that despite submitting a well thought out plan which would have given actionable testing data to educators and families, the Biden administration has denied South Carolina’s testing waiver request,” Spearman said. “Assessments play an important role in determining how students are faring and our proposal to use a series of interim tests that can be easily administered to all students - both virtual and face to face - would have provided educators and families with immediate, student centered results to drive instruction and deploy resources to support struggling learners.”

She continued, “Unfortunately, as so often happens, Washington D.C. thinks they know best and now educators and students will be forced to spend an inordinate amount of time preparing, administering, and taking tests whose results won’t be known for months, when they should be focused closing academic gaps and addressing the social and emotional needs of our students who have had the most stressful academic year ever.”

In light of the waiver denial and the testing and accountability flexibilities granted by the Biden administration, South Carolina College-and Career-Ready Assessments (SC READY) in English language arts and mathematics (grades 3-8), South Carolina Palmetto Assessment of State Standards (SCPASS) in science (grades 4 and 6), and End-of-Course examinations in Biology, Algebra, U.S. History and the Constitution, and English will be offered to all students.

English Language Proficiency and alternate assessments will also be administered to students who meet the requisite criteria.

“While it was denied and I’m disappointed. It is not over.” Spearman said.

The USDE has stated that they “do not believe that if there are places where students are unable to attend school safely in person because of the pandemic that they should be brought into school buildings for the sole purpose of taking a test.”

Thus, if a family believes it is unsafe for their child to attend school in person to take assessments, the SCDE and school districts will not require them to do so.

“While we encourage all students to participate, we are relying on and empowering families to make the best decision for their child when it comes to end-of-the-year tests,” said Spearman. “If a family determines that it is unsafe for a student to attend school for the sole purpose of taking a test, we will not penalize them, their teacher, or their school.”

Meantime, Stone feels taking the time out of an already jam-packed school year is especially damaging for students already going through so much. Preparing for the tests takes time out from normal studies. Time Stone feels could have been better spent.

”It just feels so contradictory to this message that we’re trying to tell our students of hey this isn’t a normal year, it’s ok for it to not be ok, we’re gonna be alright,” he says. ”We could do so many more meaningful things that would have a pay off besides getting test results back that we know are not gonna be as good as a traditional school year.”

For any student who does not participate in testing, school districts will continue to use interim assessment data to inform instruction, intervention, summer learning, and learning loss/unfinished learning plans for 2021-22 and beyond.

The SCDE previously granted districts the authority to forego the 20 percent final grade requirement for End-of-Course exams. Non-federally required assessments related to college and career readiness have and will continue to be offered to students. These include Ready to Work, SAT, ACT, Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and Cambridge.

The SCDE will report all available valid and reliable data, by subgroup, publicly on SCreportcards.com including those data specified in the USDE’s Feb. 22, 2021 notification.

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