SchoolHouse Connection recognizes the value of statewide assessments as a tool for parents, communities, schools, and systems of education to gain insights into how well students are being served, including factors that might impact achievement. We recently joined over 40 education and civil rights organizations in signing onto a statement regarding the administration of statewide assessments, and are pleased to see that ED will not consider blanket waivers of the critical civil rights component of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) that requires high quality, statewide assessments. While we acknowledge that assessment data for this school year will have an asterisk next to it in the history books, this information is still critical to help us understand what our systems of education need in order to serve all students well.
We are also acutely aware that, under the current conditions of learning with many students struggling to access virtual classrooms and stay connected consistently, moving forward with traditional statewide end-of-year assessments could unintentionally punish the approximately 1.5 million (now likely higher due to the economic crisis) students experiencing homelessness across the country. For example:
- In schools and districts that offer in-person testing sites, lack of transportation can serve as a barrier for students experiencing homelessness to participate in assessments in-person.
- In schools and districts that choose to offer remote assessments, access to technology and WiFi can be a barrier for students experiencing homelessness, who have struggled across states throughout the school year to gain consistent access to these resources.
- The weighting of statewide assessments as part of a students’ final course grade can negatively impact students experiencing homelessness, who might not have had access to technology or transportation to participate fully in distance learning during the school year or to take the assessment. In some cases, this could lead to a student failing a course because they are unable to take the statewide assessment.
Without necessary and thoughtful accommodations, we risk losing information about the educational attainment of 1.5 million students experiencing homelessness, many of whom are African American, Hispanic, and American Indian/Alaska Native, English learners, and students with disabilities. For assessment data to empower stakeholders to make decisions that will serve all students well, it is imperative that we make every effort to ensure students experiencing homelessness are not left out, and that the specific challenges they face are addressed.
Therefore, while we support the impetus for maintaining statewide end-of-year assessments, the following assurances must be made in order to ensure that our students who are furthest from opportunity are not further set back:
- ED should provide additional guidance to states regarding assessments, specifying the needs of students experiencing homelessness as a priority and outlining ways in which SEAs and LEAs can ensure those students are being served.
- SEAs and LEAs should provide guidance clarifying that students will not be penalized if they are unable to access the assessment virtually or if distance learning impacts their performance.
- SEAs and LEAs must make every effort to accommodate students who are trying their best to access remote learning with significantly limited resources. Funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) should be used to ensure these supports are in place. This includes providing transportation, access to technology, and staff time to inform, track, and assist students.
- SEAs and LEAs should utilize assessment data to address students’ needs, particularly in light of the unevenness of learning during the pandemic.
SchoolHouse Connection is committed to working with ED, state and local education agencies, and others to ensure students experiencing homelessness have the resources, access, and opportunity to fully participate in statewide assessments.
For more information, please contact Erin Patterson, Director of Education Initiatives, at firstname.lastname@example.org.