Whitmer to DeVos: ‘Do the right thing’ and waive student testing this year

Michigan’s education leaders are calling on the federal government to grant a nationwide waiver from rules that require students take state academic exams.

The request came in a letter from state Superintendent Michael Rice and Casandra Ulbrich, president of the state Board of Education, to Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education from West Michigan.

It comes a week after the U.S. Department of Education last week issued guidance saying it will consider waiving requirements for statewide tests.

The state officials say they learned late in the week that the guidance doesn’t apply in Michigan.

“Last Friday, we inquired of the United States Department of Education if we were permitted to cancel or waive the requirement to do annual state testing under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. We were told that such permission was possible only if the window for state testing overlapped with the closure period. In Michigan, ours does not,” the letter says.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week ordered all public and private schools in the state to close through April 5 because of concerns about the coronavirus, with classes resuming for many on April 6. Some schools, though, have spring break scheduled during the week of April 6, Rice and Ulbrich said.

Testing begins the week of April 13, and it’s a critical year in Michigan because it’s the first time results from the exam will be used to hold back struggling third graders who are a year or more behind in reading.

“For a variety of reasons, this is not simply an undesirable situation; it is a completely unacceptable one. Many children will struggle with the long absence from school. It will take many districts a considerable period of time to resume normal functioning, not to mention refocusing on the instruction of children,” they wrote.

“It’s time for Betsy DeVos to do the right thing on behalf of our students and waive statewide assessments,” Whitmer said in a statement. “When our kids get back to school, our number one priority must be ensuring they have the resources they need to get back on track.”

Other states are also seeking waivers, including Colorado, which announced Tuesday that it is pausing its state exam for the school year and Indiana, where testing is scheduled to begin April 20. Tennessee has also asked for a waiver. The coronavirus outbreak has thrown the testing season into disarray across the U.S., reported Education Week.

In Michigan, the five major education associations released a statement supporting the request from Rice and Ulbrich.

The support came from the executive directors of the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators, Michigan Association of Superintendents and Administrators, Michigan Association of School Boards, Michigan Association of Secondary School Principals, and Michigan School Business Officials.

The extended break from school “will create a need for our students to re-acclimate with school and their usual routines,” they wrote.

“To ask schools to immediately return to state assessments would be unfair to our students and our educators. Due to the loss of instructional time, any state summative assessment results would not be an accurate reflection of our students’ learning. By waiving the assessment mandate, the U.S. Department of Education would be giving Michigan educators the chance to put students and their immediate needs first upon the return to school.”