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Michigan schools want to skip standardized tests, blaming COVID

empty classroom
Lansing Community College is forgiving about $2 million in student debt to encourage low-income students to re-enroll. Some groups are urging the state to incentivize more colleges to do the same. (File photo)

Update: Michigan GOP: Cancel standardized tests and 3rd grade reading law this year

For the second year in a row, COVID-19 may cancel the M-STEP standardized tests given to Michigan public school students.

State Superintendent Michael Rice requested a waiver Monday from the U.S. Department of Education for what is typically an annual, federally-mandated test, citing an inability to give standardized tests when nothing about this school year has been standard.

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“Without uniform testing conditions, adequate participation, and appropriate test security measures, summative assessment results will misrepresent achievement,” Rice wrote to acting U.S. Secretary of Education Phil Rosenfelt.

The Michigan Department of Education is inviting public comment on the waiver request. Comments can be submitted by Feb. 12, 2021 via email to:, with “2021 ESSA Assessment and Accountability Waiver” in the subject line.

“In the spring of 2021, instructional conditions will still vary across the state in combinations of at-home, in-person, and hybrid instruction. Thus, … summative test results will not be reliable, comparable, generalizable, or valid for their intended purposes.”

The federal government last year granted waivers to all states for the test, which are given to students in grades three to eight and 11, because of the pandemic.

Rice’s request to skip the test again this year was denied in fall by Betsy DeVos, Rosenfelt’s Republican predecessor.

Rice had long been expected to renew his request once the administration of Democrat President Joe Biden took office. School officials have said they believe the Biden administration is likely to approve the waiver.

Education Trust-Midwest, a Michigan-based school research and advocacy organization, criticized the waiver request, arguing that the test should still be given to Michigan students this spring.

“Now is the time to face this educational challenge with great transparency and honesty,” Amber Arellano, executive director of Education Trust-Midwest, said in a release Monday. “It’s more important than ever to know how students have been impacted by COVID-19's disrupted learning so that we understand how best to direct resources and supports to students.”

Canceling the test would delay implementation of Michigan’s “read-or-flunk” law. Under that law, third-graders who are more than a year behind in reading based on M-STEP scores can be held back in grade.

The law was originally scheduled to go into effect in the 2019-20 school year.

Most educators have long criticized the test, arguing that teachers spend weeks and “teach to the test” because it’s so important.

Michigan students would still take benchmark tests in the spring, but those scores are only used to measure individual student progress – not to compare schools or for teacher evaluations. Those benchmark tests can vary between schools.

“These assessments help provide us with an understanding of where children are in the midst of the pandemic in the absence of being able to administer state summative assessments with the same rigorous protocols as in past years,” Rice wrote to the Department of Education.

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