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Georgia school chief again asks feds to drop mandated tests

February 19, 2021 GMT

ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia is renewing its request to again be exempted from federal requirements to administer state standardized tests.

State Superintendent Richard Woods announced Thursday that he and Gov. Brian Kemp had resubmitted a waiver request to the U.S. Department of Education. Former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in September that she would deny waiver requests for the 2020-2021 school year, after granting them last year.

Woods argues that tests are useless because they’re supposed to measure instruction in a regular learning environment.

“This unprecedented school year has been anything but traditional, and experts know tests cannot be completely redesigned and revamped overnight,” Woods said in a statement Thursday. Most Georgia school districts have been offering in-person instruction for most of the year, but a substantial fraction of students have chosen to learn remotely from home. A handful of districts have offered no in-person instruction.

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It’s unclear how the Biden administration will receive renewed waiver requests, which are being submitted by a number of states. Miguel Cardona, Biden’s nominee for education secretary, has yet to get a confirmation vote in the U.S. Senate.

Woods said it will be hard for all students to take tests in-person, as testing security rules required. The elected Republican superintendent is generally a foe of the current standardized testing regime, arguing that the tests are an “autopsy,” with results arriving after the year ends, too late for teachers to make improvements. He also argues that standardized testing is stressful and harmful to students, especially in a “uniquely taxing” year.

Woods instead promotes tests that help evaluate learning as the year goes along. The state has provided such a test that districts can use this year.

Those who support testing say it’s important to know what students have actually learned in the last two years. Without the test results, Georgia can’t operate its current systems of rating schools and evaluating teachers.

The state Board of Education last year voted to reduce the amount that state standardized tests count toward grades in four high school classes to nearly zero from the normal 20%. Districts still can choose to count tests at a higher value.