COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - State leaders are working on a plan to reopen schools, and one issue on the table is finding time to catch up students who may have fallen behind during the pandemic.
An idea that’s gaining support from teachers and education groups is seeking another federal waiver from next year’s state tests. The process for getting this testing waived is extensive, but some say it will free up time for instruction and alleviate stress on teachers, parents, and students.
The South Carolina Education Association, Palmetto State Teachers Association, and members of SC for Ed are all in favor of waiving next year’s state testing. “We need to be given some flexibility right now. We hear that term thrown around a lot with Governor McMaster and Superintendent Spearman, and we also need to extend that to the classroom with teachers and give us the ability to teach authentic lessons," said South Carolina Education Association President Sherry East.
East is on the AccelerateEd Task Force and believes her group will make a formal recommendation to Superintendent Molly Spearman to try to request this federal waiver. East says most states education groups are also in favor of marking off testing next year. “When you’re tied to these tests and standards that are so aligned with a test, once we know that we can have the freedom to do what we think is best for students without the oversight of a test hanging over our heads, I think we will get a whole lot better product from whatever happens next year," said East.
SC for Ed leader, Chris Hass, teaches second and third grade at Richland Two’s Center for Inquiry and says at-home learning has showcased the inequity between students. “Some of them are caring for younger siblings, and they have parents who are working from home and can’t help them, and then there’s technology issues, so it’s certainly very different, and there are a number of challenges with it,” said Hass.
He’s asking for the flexibility to meet kids where they are this fall, without the stress and pressure of getting them ready for high stakes testing. “If you’re assessing right now, what you’re really assessing is a privilege. I think that pushes forward to next year as well,” Hass explained.
Executive Director of the Palmetto State Teachers Association, Kathy Maness, believes there are other ways to measure student success next year, such as portfolios and formative tests. “Our South Carolina students and teachers have experienced something we’ve never experienced before, and it’s going to be difficult going back in and trying to catch our children up, and this high stakes testing is hard not only on our students but on our teachers and on our parents," Maness noted.
According to the South Carolina Department of Education, around $17 million was spent on these state tests last year. Because the department has a contract with the company that makes these tests, they say it's unlikely they could get all of that money back, even if next year’s tests were waived.
The decision to waive state tests is not solely up to Superintendent Molly Spearman and the South Carolina Department of Education. The United States Department of Education would have to allow states to apply for a testing waiver, and the South Carolina legislature would also have to vote to waive testing. “There’s a lot of money involved with this testing situation, and it will be curious to see how the Pearson’s of the world react to that if they react with what’s best for kids or they react with what’s best for their pocketbook," said Sherry East.
The South Carolina School Boards Association says it sent a survey to school board members across the state, and preliminary data shows they are also overwhelmingly in support of waiving testing next year.
AccelerateEd will hold another virtual meeting tomorrow at 3 pm.