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U.S. Department of Education Confirms Testing Will Continue to Address Learning Gaps

• Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds

This week, the U.S. Department of Education advised states not to expect any additional waivers to federal testing requirements, which are outlined in the Every Student Succeeds Act, or ESSA. Testing is critical to ensuring that parents and educators have the data to better understand, particularly amid learning disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, where students are academically. Even more important, the data identify what supports are needed to address any gaps that might exist for each student.

Another academic year cannot pass without objective, comparable information about student achievement derived from a state assessment. Amid a crisis that has disrupted virtually every school and family in the country, knowing the impact on student learning will enable leaders to respond effectively.

Teachers and schools certainly want their students to succeed. The annual state assessment serves as the high-level, external check on local practices for improving student outcomes. Rigorous classroom expectations coupled with a state assessment are a powerful way to keep education strong. Together, they are imperative to keep the promise of equity. State assessments provide objective, comparable information on student performance so that state leaders can make informed decisions on resource allocation, supports and state-level policy.

Prior to 2020, state assessments provided an essential, external check on course grades, local test results and policies. In the coming school year, they will provide detailed evidence of learning loss from the school shutdowns. That will allow education leaders to track student performance so they can remediate where shortfalls appear and identify and scale up best practices that are helping students. Failure to test would mean leaders will not know where needs exist and will not be able to identify successes to learn from them.

Objective measures of learning are not a fearsome activity, as some describe it. They’re an invaluable tool that ensures each and every child is being served with a quality education. Parents need assurance that assessments are providing continuity and stability in student learning and that they are a vital tool for ensuring equity in education. The disruptions of 2020 cannot be allowed to derail a proven, critical practice that helps students. A failure to maintain and use statewide data will leave a generation of students behind.

About the author

Lizzette Gonzalez Reynolds

Lizzette serves as Vice President of Policy for ExcelinEd, bringing almost three decades of policy and legislative experience at both the state and federal level to the organization. In her home state of Texas, Lizzette served as deputy legislative director for then-Gov. George W. Bush and most recently as Chief Deputy Commissioner for the Texas Education Agency. Under Secretary of Education Rod Paige, Lizzette served as Special Assistant in the Office of Legislation and Congressional Affairs, where she guided the reauthorizations of IDEA and Head Start. She also served as the Secretary’s Regional Representative under Secretary Margaret Spellings. Her career reflects deep experience in education policy development and implementation as well as the “how-to” of legislative work needed to advance education reforms. Among her numerous appointments, Lizzette currently sits on the board of the KnowledgeWorks Foundation, the Austin advisory board of IDEA Public Schools and the advisory board of UTeach. She received her undergraduate degree from Southwestern University.