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US Education Department Approves Oregon’s Request To Scale Back Standardized Tests

Josh Davis

Oregon leaders originally asked to waive all standardized tests. Testing will only be required in one or two subjects.

U.S. Department of Education officials sent a letter to the Oregon Department of Education Tuesday, approving the state’s amended waiver request on standardized testing this year.

“We are thankful for the U.S. Department of Education’s swift response to our amended waiver request,” said Gill in a statement to OPB. “We now have the certainty to plan a course forward.”

The Oregon Department of Education’s approved request includes testing students in grades 3-8 and 11 in one or two subjects, a change from Oregon’s original proposal to waive all standardized tests. Federal education officials rejected that plan.

“ODE has demonstrated that this request will advance student academic achievement because, based on the specific circumstances in Oregon resulting from the pandemic, it maximizes the ability to obtain high-quality data regarding student learning that Oregon’s statewide assessments provide,” U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary for Policy and Programs Ian Rosenblum wrote in his Tuesday letter addressed to Oregon Department of Education Director Colt Gill.

Rosenblum also pointed out that Oregon’s plan “maintains the importance of the annual statewide assessments to provide data on all students.”

Over the last several months, Gill has expressed concern with the ability of school districts to create safe and secure testing environments as thousands of Oregon students return to classrooms for the first time in a year.

“This is not the year or the moment for summative assessment,” Gill said in an April 1 message to school superintendents.

All students are required to take the tests and assessments will only be offered on school campuses. For families with students in full-time distance learning who may not want to come to school for the tests, ODE said families can either opt-out or exempt their child from testing.

Public comment collected by the Oregon Department of Education overwhelmingly supported the agency’s plan to waive all standardized tests. At least one school district passed a resolution to have families “opt-in” to testing.

And in a Wednesday Oregonian op-ed from Oregon Education Association President John Larson, the union leader encouraged other school districts to shift to having families “opt-in” to assessments, rather than needing to “opt out,” as is the typical practice.

“We firmly believe that any amount of time spent on standardized testing this year is time wasted,” Larson wrote.

According to the Oregon Department of Education, requiring parents to “opt-in” would violate the state’s Division 22 standards, which require school districts to administer the tests. Violating the standards “would require an acknowledgement of such by the Superintendent when assurances are submitted as well as a corrective action plan to come into compliance in the 2021-22 school year.”

Like Gill, Larson said testing takes away from the little in-person instruction time left in the school year.

“Let’s finish this most challenging of school years by expanding in-person instruction for our students while providing them with an education that meets their social and emotional needs, not by sticking them back in front of a computer screen so they can complete a meaningless standardized test,” Larson said.

The Oregon Department of Education continues to receive public comment on its request to adopt non-standard testing protocols this year. State officials will submit the additional comments to the U.S. Department of Education, along with any changes to Oregon’s plan prompted by the feedback.

Copyright 2021 Oregon Public Broadcasting