U.S Congressman Anthony Brindisi today called on Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos to grant states the flexibility to forgo federally-required standardized testing if needed during the coronavirus pandemic. DeVos had previously granted states such flexibility in March 2020 for the 2019-2020 school year, but she recently announced that the Department of Education would no longer be granting waivers for standardized testing.

“Secretary DeVos’s decision to push forward with standardized testing this school year is wildly premature,” Brindisi said. “Many students are struggling with online learning, parents are juggling childcare and employment concerns, and teachers in the classroom are working to keep themselves and their students safe. Schools need flexibility and support, not strict mandates from Washington.”

Brindisi pushed back in response to a September 3rd letter from Secretary DeVos. DeVos wrote that, unlike last school year, states should not expect any waivers from standardized testing requirements going forward, and that “states will, in the interest of students, administer summative assessments during the 2020-2021 school year” and that states “should not anticipate such waivers being granted again.”

“We cannot expect a child to perform their best on a standardized test in this environment,” Brindisi wrote to DeVos. “You would not be testing a student’s aptitude; you would be testing how well they are overcoming the hurdles brought on by COVID-19.”

Brindisi, who previously served on the Utica City School Board, is a strong supporter of local schools, including supporting emergency assistance to stop state cuts to K-12 education. In May, Brindisi voted for the bipartisan HEROES Act, which would provide more than $100 billion in aid for New York State. The bill creates a $90 billion nationwide fund to support education, including $58 billion which would go directly to local school districts. Schools could use this funding to provide safety equipment, distribute distance learning technology, and stop budget cuts.

Brindisi’s full letter to Secretary DeVos is below:

Dear Secretary DeVos,

Like millions of American families, my wife and I spent the last few weeks getting our children ready for the upcoming school year. Both of our children attend public schools in Utica, NY, and they were eager to get back to school. And like so many students, they are meeting their classmates and their new teachers from behind a computer screen, due to the dangers posed by the coronavirus pandemic.

Given that the Department of Education last March granted states the option to waive standardized testing requirements due to the upheaval facing student and teachers, I was surprised to read your September 3rd letter to the Chief State School Officers. You stated in that letter that states should not expect any waivers from standardized testing requirements, and that “states will, in the interest of students, administer summative assessments during the 2020-2021 school year” and that states “should not anticipate such waivers being granted again.”

Students and teachers are facing unprecedented challenges this school year. Some schools are only offering online instruction, which many students find less effective than in-person learning. Many families are struggling with access to high-speed broadband, either because it is too expensive, too unreliable, or not available in their area. And many parents are finding themselves juggling childcare and employment concerns, which can greatly disrupt at-home learning.

Students who are learning in-person are facing their own challenges. With a public health emergency hanging over them, students are understandably concerned with getting their teachers or family sick, or becoming infected themselves. These concerns may grow this fall and winter, if our nation faces a second wave similar to previous pandemics. We cannot expect a child to perform their best on a standardized test in this environment. You would not be testing a student’s aptitude; you would be testing how well they are overcoming the hurdles brought on by COVID-19.

Because we don’t know how this school year will go, your decision to forgo any waivers seems to have been made prematurely. I encourage you to not let your September 3rd letter be the final word on this matter. Students and teachers are facing unprecedented challenges during this ongoing public health emergency and they deserve our support. Please grant states the same flexibility afforded to them this spring.

Sincerely,
Anthony Brindisi
Member of Congress