But as the new school year begins, the Trump administration expects states to carry out the assessments required under the Every Student Succeeds Act, S. 1177 (114), the main law governing K-12 education, DeVos said.
Some governors, including Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp, a Republican, and other state officials had asked the Education Department to consider suspending standardized tests during the coming 2020-21 school year, citing ongoing disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic and budget cuts. State officials from Michigan also called on DeVos to again relax testing requirements.
Richard Woods, the Republican superintendent of schools in Georgia, criticized DeVos’ decision. “It is disappointing, shows a complete disconnect with the realities of the classroom, and will be a detriment to public education,” he said in a statement.
But DeVos dismissed those concerns in her letter, saying that — while it may be more difficult for states to administer tests during the pandemic — it is important to continue to measure student achievement and school performance.
“If we fail to assess students, it will have a lasting effect for years to come,” DeVos wrote. “Not only will vulnerable students fall behind, but we will be abandoning the important, bipartisan reforms of the past two decades at a critical moment.”
DeVos’ letter cites a request from a broad coalition of groups calling on the Trump administration to enforce federal testing requirements, including the Center for American Progress, the National Urban League, the Education Trust and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
The Council of Chief State School Officers also pushed for assessments in the coming academic year, saying it is “more important than ever” to measure student learning and identify potential gaps during the pandemic.
DeVos’ announcement won rare praise from congressional Democrats.
Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chair of the House Education and Labor Committee, said he appreciated DeVos’ decision. “There is no question that the COVID-19 pandemic is having severe consequences for students’ growth and achievement, particularly for our most vulnerable students,” he said in a statement. “We cannot begin to address these consequences, unless we fully understand them.”
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), the top Democrat on the Senate education committee, also emphasized the importance of assessments required by federal law. “Especially when it comes to the disparities that harm so many students of color, students with disabilities and students whose families have low incomes, we’ve got to have data that shows us where we’re falling short so we can better support those students,” she said.
Both Scott and Murray said Congress needs to provide more funding to help schools safely reopen, avoid teacher layoffs and provide services to students during the pandemic.
Murray said that if President Donald Trump and Republicans “are in any way serious about ensuring schools can keep our kids learning, they’ve got to stop blocking our bill to finally provide schools with the resources they need.”
Democrats and Republicans in Congress have both called for more funding for schools and colleges, but negotiations over the next coronavirus relief package have stalled.
Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, blasted DeVos’ announcement, saying the education secretary should be focused on helping safely reopen schools, rather than “issuing a dictate on how to measure them.”
“Instead of focusing on the supports our kids need to get back to school safely, or what she can do to help, her first missive to the field is to tell them she is maintaining high stakes testing,” Weingarten said in a statement. “Of course accountability has a role, as does data, but right now educators and students are struggling with the daily realities of remote learning and returning to a potentially unsafe working environment.”