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Teacher Stephanie Patchin leads a online class Zoom call in her otherwise empty third-grade classroom at South Bay Elementary School in Lacey, Wash.

OLYMPIA - On Thursday, March 25, 2021, the Washington State Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) submitted a request to the U.S. Department of Education (Department) to waive some statewide assessment requirements for the 2020–21 school year.

In a normal year, approximately 700,000 students sit down for standardized exams, but under the waiver, Washington State is proposing to test a representative sample of about 50,000 students across the state. 

The OPSI has said the purpose of this waiver is to preserve valuable in-person instructional time for students and educators while providing the state with accurate and meaningful data about student progress, OSPI proposed to test a statistically representative sample of students this spring. The proposal is supported by Governor Inslee, as well as the associations representing our state’s principals, superintendents, school board directors, and teachers.

Since submitting the waiver request, OSPI has engaged in multiple conversations with the Department of Education. Though the Department has not yet made a formal decision, they have made clear that their goal is to test as many students as possible this spring.

“It is inexcusable to proceed with business-as-usual testing this spring that annually requires over 4.7 million hours of time that would be better spent on advancing student learning, relationship building, and the provision of mental and behavioral health supports,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal.

As schools continue opening their buildings for more in-person learning, educators and school leaders need every minute they have available this spring to combat the effects of extended time in isolation for students, both academically and social-emotionally.

“Over the past year while many of our young people have been isolated, their mental and behavioral health needs have intensified,” Reykdal said. “It would be counterproductive and senseless to ask 700,000 of our students to spend precious time in-person further isolated taking federally mandated tests.”

This spring, school districts will already be administering locally determined assessments to understand individual student needs as schools plan for the supports they will provide over the summer, next school year, and beyond.

“Federal officials have already waived the accountability expectations of these tests, but they are still focused on large volumes of tests,” Reykdal said. “The testing-industrial complex has outsized influence over education decisions in Washington, D.C.”

“Washington taxpayers have spent over $425 million in our state alone since 2010 on federally mandated tests,” Reykdal continued. “These tests have not closed racial and other equity gaps, informed teaching and learning decisions at the local level, or improved student mental health. Now is the time to put in place meaningful assessments that impact teaching and learning, resource allocation, and actually demonstrate accountability.”

"We experienced an unprecedented and unimaginable year in education,” said Dr. Scott Seaman, Executive Director of the Association of Washington School Principals. “The entire system was pushed into new ways of teaching and learning while the world grappled with the impacts of a pandemic.”

"Now is not the time to assess our students with traditional approaches when there was nothing traditional, typical, or consistent about this past year,” Seaman continued. “Our board of principals fully agrees that forcing our students and school communities into uniform standardized testing across the state is not the best use of the precious and limited time we have left with our students this year.”

“We will continue to work with federal officials to provide critical data that describes the potential impacts of the pandemic on student learning,” Reykdal said. “However, I cannot in good conscience endorse business-as-usual standardized testing that supports the multibillion-dollar testing industry when those dollars could be better used to support students, families, educators, and communities. Our PreK–12 system is ranked #11 by U.S. News and World Report. We have made this progress by focusing on highly effective educators, building student and family relationships, and challenging our learners with impactful instruction aligned to our learning standards.”

“The next $425 million should be spent on evidence-based strategies that propel our public schools to be the best in the nation, not on another decade of failed federal testing regimes,” Reykdal concluded.