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South Salt Lake Journal

Utah State Board votes to suspend year-end testing, 180-day minimum school year

Mar 19, 2020 03:01PM ● By Julie Slama

RISE testing as well as other statewide year-end tests have been suspended this school year.

By Julie Slama | [email protected]

It’s Darin Nielsen’s second year as the state assistant superintendent over student learning and he is trying to keep things light in these uncertain times, saying he wonders if he isn’t “cursed.” 

Last year, there was a glitch in the service a vendor was providing with the state assessment tests. This spring, in a virtual meeting, the state board of education voted to suspend all state year-end testing for the 2019-20 school year from the ripple-down effect of the school soft closure because of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Board values measurement of learning and growth,” Nielsen said. “The transparency the data provides to the education community, and the role it plays in providing support for improved outcomes for Utah students is invaluable. However, during this extraordinary time, the health and safety, both individual and community, should be the focus of our energies and decision making.”

Utah provides the RISE testing to grades third through eighth and the Aspire assessment for ninth- and 10th-graders.

In other business, the state board approved waiving the 180-day school day requirement and pushing back all statewide calendar items two months beginning April 1 as well as other items based upon the Board’s conditions.

“These are clearly unprecedent times in the world and in the world of education,” Nielsen said. “With these circumstances, this is relieving some stress of accountability for our teachers and districts.”

Utah Education Association Communications and Public Relations Director Mike Kelley said he’s not surprised at the Board’s decisions.

“There is too much disruption right now with circumstances the way they are,” he said. “We knew there was no way to follow through with assessments. Teachers are rightly concerned about accountability. Even if we were to have time for testing, some teachers may not get through all the curriculum so there was a lot of angst with teachers. It’s a good move for all involved.”

Utah will join other states who have already taken action in statewide testing this year.

As of March 18, 36 states have suspended, paused or cancelled their statewide tests. States are required to get federal approval to suspend or cancel tests since they’re required by federal law.

Utah and those other states will be seeking waivers from the federal government in terms of the numbers of tests administered and the accountability of those mandated tests.

“We may just count this as a non-year, where we don’t have test scores to count, but then look at school improvements and state turnaround schools and will need to see if we need to extend their period of times for improvement and exit criteria,” he said. “We will lose some real valuable data, which will be a loss to students, their families and teachers who monitor student progress and make changes for improvement to curriculum, but our highest priority is to the health of the individual student and their family and our educators as well as to the community well-being.”

Nielsen said that without those scores, the team of parents, teachers and educators who review testing questions annually won’t have that feedback this year as it will be delayed for another year. However, they will still meet this year, just virtually.

“Educators will undoubtedly have questions about the impact of this decision on existing accountability determinations. USBE staff will work to determine and share those answers in the coming weeks/months. In the meantime, I encourage schools to continue to focus on providing high-quality instruction, that meets the individual needs of each student and following the directions of the state health department and other leaders in order to maintain the health and well-being of the community, including themselves,” he said.

Recently, a national recommendation for gatherings to be limited to 10 people or less for the next eight weeks, which goes into May, makes any testing difficult, he added.

Nielsen said the Board’s decision will ripple down to the testing teams which test first- through third-grade students’ reading, and in some cases, kindergarten through fifth grades, with the Acadience Reading. Those testers monitor students’ reading three times per year and the final assessment this spring will be waived.

For those testers, Nielsen said some districts are finding other ways to shift those employees’ duties, whether it’s making phone calls for teachers to stay connected to students during distance learning or distributing lunches during the grab-and-go meal plans.

WIDA English language proficiency and dual language AAPPL testing have already been completed for the school year and won’t be affected, he said.

The state also administers the ACT to high school juniors and while the majority of those have taken that college entrance exam, there are others who still could take the test and the state office will look at options to accommodate them, Nielsen said.

The state Board’s decision does not extend to the Advanced Placement (AP) and International Baccalaureate testing, he said, and that as states seek delays in their statewide assessments, as well as concerns surrounding coronavirus, this will “impact them.”

Traditionally, those college-bound credit tests are given in May.

On the AP website, it states: “The AP Program is developing resources to help schools support student learning during extended closures, as well as a solution that would allow students to test at home, depending on the situation in May. Additional information will be posted by March 20.”

Nielsen also said that it is the school districts who make the decision whether to hold, delay or cancel commencement ceremonies and they would make those in conjunction with the Center for Disease Control and county and state health departments.

“We’re learning how things we don’t always think about can disrupt so many lives,” he said.

Kelley applauds teachers during this time.

“Studies have shown the best way to learn is in the classroom with a qualified instructor. But given our circumstances, there are some amazing things going on with distance learning and providing the continuity of instruction,” he said. “Our teachers are amazing. In two days, they have moved to Google classrooms, compiled packets and done so many things. Every classroom has a different, but amazing story.”

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