The U.S. Department of Education has not yet granted Michigan a free pass from testing accountability, and it shouldn’t. After a year of unprecedented disruptions, families deserve honest information about how their schools are doing.
Standardized tests are the best way to gauge that performance, and while state education officials — including the Michigan Department of Education and the State Board of Education — have put their efforts into seeking a waiver from federally required annual tests, this isn’t the right priority.
The feds announced in a letter Friday that some accountability measures would be waived, but stopped short of issuing the testing waiver. That’s still under consideration.
Schools across the state have responded to the COVID crisis very differently, with some heading back to the classroom much sooner than others, and the effectiveness of these varying approaches should be measured. This will be especially important as schools decide how to handle summer school for students as a way for them to catch up on lost learning.
We are pleased the federal Education Department, now led by Education Secretary Miguel Cardona, has resisted state pleas to issue blanket testing waivers. Cardona doesn’t appear to be on board with completely ditching accountability measures, and in his former role as the education chief in Connecticut, he had said he planned to continue with scheduled tests.
It’s also promising that President Joe Biden’s education czar isn’t doing the bidding of teachers unions, at least not in this regard.
Both national and state union leaders have made it clear they want out of testing requirements. They say it’s in the best interest of students, but it’s definitely in the best interest of teachers.
When the U.S. Education Department last month announced it would not grant waivers to all states, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called the decision “frustrating” and said it “misses a huge opportunity to really help our students.”
Michigan Education Association President Paula Herbart has made similar comments.
The union officials, along with state Superintendent Michael Rice, are claiming that “benchmark” assessments are a better approach to summative ones. While benchmark tests can be a useful tool to help individual students, they miss the broader trends found in tests like the M-STEP, and make it impossible to compare districts.
As Amber Arellano, executive director of The Education Trust-Midwest, observed last month, “These (summative tests) are essential tools to … gauge the quality of instruction and support offered under COVID-19 restrictions.”
The test is also a key component of other accountability measures in Michigan, from teacher evaluations to grading individual schools.
If the federal department caves and grants the testing waiver, this will mean the state will go two years without this test. Former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos granted waivers last spring due to the pandemic. She later refused to grant Michigan a second waiver. But the MDE made the request again after the election, hoping for a more sympathetic ear from a Democratic administration.
It shouldn’t get one. Parents, students, teachers and school leaders need to know how their schools are measuring up.
— THE DETROIT NEWS