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Michigan superintendents urge suspension of state exams for the 2020-21 school year

Students taking tests
A group of intermediate school district superintendents in Michigan is asking the state to seek the OK to suspend testing for the 2020-21 school year.

A group of superintendents from metro Detroit and surrounding counties is urging Gov. Gretchen Whitmer and state Superintendent Michael Rice to seek the OK to suspend state-mandated academic testing during the upcoming school year.

“Every educator’s first and foremost priority will be to work with students individually, assess their needs, and help them readjust to in-person learning,” the district leaders wrote.

The letter was signed by the superintendents of intermediate school districts in Macomb, Oakland, Wayne, Genesee, Monroe, Washtenaw, and St. Clair counties. Intermediate school districts provide a range of services to local districts and charter schools within their boundaries.

The letter asks the state to seek the OK from the U.S. Department of Education to suspend testing. Federal guidelines require annual assessments.

The request comes as districts across the state are working to develop plans to reopen school buildings in the fall, and make accommodations for students who opt to continue learning online. Whitmer next week is expected to release guidelines for the safe reopening of schools.

Rice told Bridge Magazine he will ask the federal education department for a waiver of testing requirements because of the ongoing pandemic. The state sought and won a similar waiver that allowed for the suspension of spring testing this year.

Earlier this week, Republican leaders in the Michigan legislature released a plan that calls for the opposite of what the superintendents are asking. That plan requires schools to administer “benchmark assessments” when students return to school that allow educators to determine what academic level students are at.

One Republican lawmaker, though, said in a statement Thursday that is calling on Betsy DeVos, the U.S. Secretary of Education, to waive the testing requirements.

“Our classrooms and children are facing immeasurable uncertainty,” said John Reilly, a state representative from Oakland Township. “Our primary concern should be how students will acclimate themselves to their classmates and schools after continued months of stress and anxiety.”

The letter from the superintendents also calls on the Michigan Department of Education to release about $40 million it received in federal coronavirus relief aid. It was part of $390 million earmarked for education, with the remaining $350 million going directly to school districts.

The superintendents say that money should be released to districts “on a per-pupil basis to help them prepare for a return to in-person learning this fall.”

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