Superintendent opposes standardized testing bill, holds hope feds will waive requirements

Updated: Jan. 20, 2021 at 6:50 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Some lawmakers are pushing for a bill that could require students to undergo summative federal standardized tests even if the state is granted a waiver from the federal government.

Superintendent Molly Spearman is pushing back as she waits on a response from the federal government concerning her request for a waiver from these tests.

During a K-12 Subcommittee meeting Wednesday, Spearman said the tests would only add more stress to students during this unprecedented school year.

House bill 3618 would direct the SC Department of Education to administer certain student assessments required by the federal government under the Education Accountability Act for the 2020-2021 school year. It would also direct the department to provide an alternative approach if its unable to administer the assessments to all appropriate students.

Spearman told the subcommittee’s members the federal testing would be an unnecessary burden on students who are already undergoing alternative testing to gauge how the pandemic has impacted their learning.

“That would be the vest use of our time, money and we would get better results from that to allow those schools to use these formative assessments for that, rather than the normal summative assessments that we give,” Spearman said. “I’m not against the gathering of the data. you’ve got to know where your kids are. But I think we do have a big question to say does this pandemic and all of these circumstances bring us to make a different decision in the spring as to how we assess our children. I believe it does.”

Some lawmakers also shared concerns about the use of formal standardized tests during this school year. Spearman agreed the decision shouldn’t be taken lightly.

“These were waived last Spring by the US Department of Education, and I have asked again that they be waived, and we have not gotten a definitive answer,” Spearman said. “We hope to have an answer in the next few weeks from the US Dept. of Education...Those tests are required by the feds. We could see what’s the penalty if we don’t do it. I’m willing to go that route, but I hope we don’t have to. I’m hoping we get a waiver from the feds and an agreement with you all that we would do something slightly different than we’ve been doing.”

The bill goes on to require the publication of all school report cards for the 2020-2021 school year before October 1, 2021, and to waive school performance ratings in school report cards for the 2020-2021 school year.

Spearman has been vocal about her opposition to H3618 along with many others involved in teacher and student advocacy groups, like the Palmetto State Teachers Association.

“The time to administer the full physical of statewide summative assessments is not during the moment of crisis. It’s when the crisis ends, and we return closer to normal,” PSTA’s Patrick Kelly said. “Just because we want to get back to business as usual doesn’t mean that we can while the pandemic is still going on and instructional models are being disrupted. This is the wrong bill at the wrong time because it tries to go to a business as usual model during a moment that is anything but usual in South Carolina schools.”

The bill was supposed to go before the K-12 subcommittee Wednesday morning, however members voted to adjourn before getting to the topic because of issues with the virtual meeting and the timing of the presidential inauguration.

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