Arkansas remains committed to statewide standardized testing in the spring, Ivy Pfeffer, Arkansas Department of Education deputy commissioner, said Tuesday at Governor Hutchinson’s weekly COVID-19 briefing.

“The results from the test will let educators and parents know how much students have learned throughout the school year and whether they are on track to achieve the success they need later in life,” she said. “This testing is no less critical now than in any other year.”

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A statewide assessment is required by the federal Every Student Succeeds Act. Last year Education Secretary Betsy DeVos granted states a blanket waiver from that testing requirement. But Pfeffer said it’s important that testing resume this spring to gauge how students have been affected by the pandemic. She said that the department support proposed legislation that would waive the A-F school grading scale that’s part of Arkansas’s educational accountability law.

Pfeffer said yesterday that there’s no federal waiver available from testing. That’s true, but only because it remains a crucial open question. The Senate is holding a confirmation hearing today for Miguel Cardona, President Biden’s nominee for education secretary. Whether Cardona, if confirmed, will allow states to forgo testing again is one of the biggest early decisions he’ll make, Education Week’s Evie Blad (formerly of the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette) writes. New York and Michigan have already asked for a waiver and others, including Georgia and South Carolina, have signaled their interest. Texas, like Arkansas, has said it’s committed to restarting testing. Opinions on whether waivers should be granted don’t break down on partisan lines in Congress. Several prominent Democratic lawmakers, including Sen. Patty Murray of Washington and Rep. Bobby Scott of Virginia, have said what Arkansas officials have, that testing is important to determine gaps in learning caused by the pandemic, Blad has reported. Meanwhile, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina has called for a waiver, according to the Washington Post.

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Will virtual students be required to test in-person? Yes, Pfeffer said yesterday.

Education department spokeswoman Kimberly Mundell elaborated.

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“Approximately 80 percent of Arkansas students are attending school onsite full time or part-time via a hybrid model, and we are working with districts to offer flexibility in regard to how testing is conducted this spring to ensure it is conducted with fidelity while mitigating the spread of COVID onsite. Stay tuned.”

My children are among that roughly 20 percent who attend public school virtually. We have several members of our immediate family with health conditions that put them at risk for severe COVID-19, so we have a tiny bubble and don’t go anywhere. My kids are in elementary school in the Little Rock School District, which, like many Arkansas districts, uses the NWEA Map Test several times a year to assess K-8 students’ growth. It’s a thorough assessment. Those tests have been administered virtually with teachers serving as proctors through Zoom.

I will be deeply reluctant to send my kids to school for in-person testing.

How will that work? I asked Mundell.

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“There isn’t an opt-out form. While there are no penalties to students for not participating, the lack of testing data will inhibit schools from getting a clearer picture of how much a student has learned (in this case for the last two years because testing did not occur last spring). This will impact the identification of possible services a student needs to be successful. USDE requires states to test 95 percent of students.”