Exploring the Federal Implications of COVID-19: K-12 Assessments

Topics: Assessment and Accountability, Education Policy

As the country continues to suffer the impacts of COVID-19, K-12 education has been dramatically altered. Physically closed school buildings, the move to online learning and the uncertainty of how schools will “open” in the fall pose big questions for educators, families and students.

As frontline educators scramble to address these immediate challenges, some stakeholders have begun to wrestle with the long-term questions about how our education system operates and how it can best serve its students, especially students of color, low-income students and students with learning differences. Many of these questions require federal leadership to better align the nation’s K-12 education laws with the increasingly popular personalized and competency-based teaching and learning systems.

Take a look at recent success stories in education as education landscapes in schools, districts and states have shifted. Learn more.

Simply returning to an approach where all students learn at the same pace and in the same place is not an option. To this end, this is the first of four articles surfacing big questions that federal policymakers must address as they consider how to respond to the lasting impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic. We hope these questions contribute to a rich discussion about how to address these challenges in the coming school year – and beyond.

Are annual accountability assessments a thing of the past?

Summative, annual assessments proctored by schools to inform school performance and accountability decisions fell prey to the closing of physical school buildings. States had no choice but to request waivers from the U.S. Department of Education to forgo assessments this year and may have to do so again during the coming school year if disruptions are significant. While this leaves states without data for their accountability systems, it also provides much needed relief from standardized assessments that provide little value for making instructional decisions.

Assuming all students can participate in a designated assessment window next spring is a real risk with strong likelihood that we may be hit by another wave of COVID-19. State chiefs, local superintendents and classroom teachers are already exploring strategies for addressing the lack of information on student performance. Federal policymakers must do the same. Our country needs to engage in real dialogue about how to reform our national approach to K-12 assessments.

As federal policymakers consider this question, I urge them to address the barriers to personalized and competency-based systems head on and strive for a better balance between summative and formative assessment approaches. Ultimately, I hope to see a new framework emerge from these conversations that emphasizes authentic, on-demand assessment systems that inform instruction coupled with statewide temperature checks to validate the equity of implementation.

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Exploring the Federal Implications of COVID-19