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Michigan leaders urge DeVos to rethink ‘cruel’ directive that students take state exams this school year

An empty classroom with chairs upside down on desks.
Michigan officials aren’t pleased with U.S. Education Secretary Betsy Devos’s statement that she won’t ease testing mandates for schools.
Kevin J. Beaty/Denverite

Cruel. That’s how Gov. Gretchen Whitmer described U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos’s statement Thursday that she won’t waive federal student testing requirements this academic year.

Some state education leaders, including those in Michigan, had been pushing DeVos to put a halt to state exams for the 2020-21 school year, as she had done in the spring when the coronavirus pandemic forced the closure of school buildings and a shift to remote learning.

“This virus has had an unprecedented impact on our kids, and forcing them to take these assessments during a time when families everywhere are working around the clock to stay safe is cruel,” Whitmer said in a statement.

She and others spoke out in disappointment after DeVos sent a letter Thursday to state education leaders saying educators will need such data in order to meet the needs of students who have experienced learning loss because of the pandemic.

As part of the federal education law, states are required to conduct annual testing for students and hold schools accountable for the results.

Statewide assessments, DeVos said, “are among the most reliable tools available to help us understand how children are performing in school. The data from assessments can help inform personalized support to children based on their individual needs and provide transparency about their progress.”

The letter came days before the official start of the school year in Michigan. Some schools have already begun the year, but Tuesday will be the first day for the Detroit Public Schools Community District and a few dozen other school districts and charters in the region. In Detroit, about 80% of the students will learn online, while a small number will learn inside school buildings. Statewide, about 86% of the school districts and charter schools are offering some form of in-person learning.

That argument didn’t sway some state leaders. “We agree with the need to know where children are academically in a pandemic, but strongly disagree with the need to use spring state summative assessments for this purpose,” Michigan Superintendent Michael Rice said in a statement.

Rice noted that a recently enacted state law that outlines requirements for reopening schools requires district-level testing in the fall and spring to measure student progress. But he said the state will reapply this winter for a waiver from statewide exams.

Whitmer, in her statement, urged Michigan native DeVos to “do the right thing.”

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