For years now, teachers’ unions have been pushing the federal government to allow states to opt out of the federal standardized testing requirement. But in its first major act, President Biden’s new Department of Education has announced that states will not be allowed to opt out of standardized tests entirely.

“As educators in the classroom, we have always known that standardized tests are not the best way to measure a child’s development, nor do they particularly help kids or inform best practices for teaching and learning. That is especially true in these unprecedented times, when students and teachers alike are remaking the school experience in the most unlikely of circumstances,” said Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, a teachers’ union representing over 1.7 million educators.

“The Department of Education is committed to supporting all states in assessing student learning during the pandemic to help target resources and support to the students with the greatest needs,” said Ian Rosenblum, the acting assistant secretary for elementary and secondary education. “We also recognize that at a time when everything in our education system is different, there need to be different ways that states can administer state tests like moving them to the fall so that precious in-person learning time this year can be spent on instruction. Balancing these priorities is the best approach.”

The balance the DoE is offering is flexibility. States and schools will be allowed to extend their standardized testing windows and to administer a shorter test. For the 2020-2021 school year, no schools will be penalized for poor performance. But the administration feels that it is vital to maintain testing, to be able to measure the depth of learning loss experienced by students impacted by the complete disruption of two consecutive school years.

“We must do everything in our power to make up for lost learning time and address achievement gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic – and that starts by understanding the scope of the problem,” said a bicameral statement from the House of Representatives and Senate on the matter.

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