Students in Missouri's public schools will be given state assessments next spring, but results from those tests won't be used for state and federal accountability measures.
That decision was made Tuesday by the State Board of Education based on a recommendation from Missouri's education leaders, who said they don't want to place additional burdens on teachers who are already working under difficult circumstances.
"We do not want to put stress on educators," Education Commissioner Margie Vandeven said. "We don't want our educators spending their time right now thinking about a standardized test; we want them educating our kids."
Most schools in Missouri shifted to remote learning in the spring as the pandemic spread. Spring assessments were waived, so there is no data from standardized tests for the 2019-20 academic year, said Chris Neale, the assistant commissioner.
Schools reopened in the fall, most with options for distance, in-person and hybrid learning. As of this month, nearly half of Missouri students were at school in person with an option for distance learning, while 24% of students were under a hybrid model and 31% were remote, according to information from the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The state's standardized test, the Missouri Assessment Program, is given to students across grade levels in several subjects, including English and math. It typically is one of several components used to hold school districts accountable and certify accreditation.
But board members, acknowledging that the pandemic has made this an unusual year, were reluctant to keep the accountability piece for the 2020-21 academic year.
"There should be no penalty involved in doing less well this year because it's been a difficult year," said board member Peter Herschend, of Branson.
There are many reasons to require that students take state assessments in spring 2021 even without the accountability piece, said Lisa Sireno, the education department's standards and assessment administrator. School districts need that data to understand how their students are performing academically, and the state uses the data to provide comparisons and benchmarks for districts, she said. Educators also use assessment data to give feedback to parents and the public and to evaluate their programs and curriculum, she said.
Charlie Shields, the president of the state board, said he believed not waiving the accountability piece for state assessments would be akin to "educational malpractice" during a pandemic. But he believes some data from state tests would be necessary to determine the academic progress of students in varied learning environments.
"It allows us to begin to think about what an appropriate remediation plan looks like, but you can't develop a remediation plan if you don't understand the challenge out there," he said. "What I fear is that the COVID-19 pandemic is potentially a generational-changing challenge, and unless we understand the significance and magnitude of that, how do we develop a plan and how do we ask for the resources to overcome that challenge?"
The motion to separate the state assessments from accountability for the current year also follows a recommendation by the Aspen Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based nonpartisan nonprofit. Researchers and educators there said in an October report that the pandemic's effect on education has produced "serious threats" to schools' ability to produce valid data through testing this year.
Joplin Superintendent Melinda Moss said she's unsure how valid spring assessment data will be because of the disruptions that have occurred in students' education due to quarantines and other pandemic-related effects.
"The variables are just too large for a generic statewide assessment to yield any valid information," she said in an email to the Globe.
But like the state board, Joplin administrators also believe that some measurement of student learning is critical, she said. Joplin teachers typically test their students multiple times per year with the Northwest Educational Association Measure of Academic Progress assessment, and that continues despite the pandemic in order to accelerate students' academic growth and get them caught up to where they need to be, she said.
"We feel like our NWEA-MAP is a valid assessment given the COVID disruptions and will yield much more meaningful and useful information than the generic spring assessment," she said.