RICHMOND — State education officials Thursday decided to ease several testing and graduation requirements to reduce stress and limit the need for in-person assessments during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Under emergency guidance approved by the Virginia Board of Education, Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane and Secretary of Education Atif Qarni, elementary and middle school students won’t have to take history or writing Standards of Learning tests, which are mandated by the state.
The U.S. Education Department has been reluctant to waive math and reading tests, meaning students still are on track for some standardized tests.
The tests — normally administered in the spring but canceled last school year as classrooms were shuttered — often are used to determine a school’s need for state intervention and its state accreditation rating, which also are effectively on pause.
Although most Virginia school systems are operating in some modified model because of COVID-19, the Standards of Learning assessments have to be administered in person. In September, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos sent a letter to state schools chiefs saying they should not expect any further waivers for the federally mandated tests.
Virginia is not alone in providing or seeking modifications as schools across the country grapple with the logistical and emotional toll of teaching students through screens or in person but at a distance, with personal protective equipment.
In Indiana, the state teachers association has called for a cancellation of state testing. The teachers union in Massachusetts also urged the federal and state governments to waive testing.
In Virginia, local school systems may use their own assessment to determine growth in place of the standardized tests the state waived.
“The waivers and emergency guidance will simplify the logistics of SOL testing this year and ensure that [the] COVID-19 pandemic does not unduly prevent any student from earning a diploma,” Lane said in a statement.
As of Thursday, just 15 out of Virginia’s 132 school divisions were operating on a fully in-person schedule. Most other localities were operating in some form of hybrid instruction. Thirty-five were fully remote.
Along with this, officials relaxed some requirements for end-of-course testing and lifted a ceiling on the number of locally awarded verified credits a school system can award in a given year.
“The emergency guidance approved today is in keeping with the commitment the Board of Education made during the beginning of the pandemic in March to do everything possible to mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on students and schools,” board President Daniel Gecker said.
This year, state lawmakers granted emergency authority to waive a rule that required students to attempt passing an end-of-course SOL in history before becoming eligible to earn locally awarded verified credits, according to a release.
However, if a locality is unable to provide its own local performance assessments, that locality must require an SOL assessment.