The Maine Department of Education will advise schools to administer standardized tests “when it is feasible and safe” this year, and will work to provide districts more flexibility around how and when the tests are given.

Students did not take the annual assessments last spring due to the coronavirus pandemic and federal waivers that allowed states to be exempt from testing requirements. Typically, exams are given to students in grades 3-8, as well as high school juniors, and test students on both math and language arts.

This week the Biden administration announced there would be no “blanket waivers” of testing requirements this year, but the federal government would work with states to allow for more flexibility, including options such as extending the testing window and moving assessments to the summer or fall, allowing the tests to be given remotely, and shortening the assessment to make testing more feasible and prioritize in-person learning time.

The administration will allow states to seek waivers of the requirement for a 95 percent test participation rate.

“We are grateful for the new administration’s flexibility in the requirements in recognition of the logistical health and safety complications created by the pandemic, and we will apply for these waivers as a way to support schools in gathering and using the data on a timeline that works for them,” Maine Department of Education spokeswoman Kelli Deveaux said in an email Wednesday.

Deveaux said the department will ask schools to administer the tests “when it is feasible and safe” and to use the data to help support students.

“We believe that additional flexibilities, including remote administration, will provide schools with options on how and when to gather this data,” she said.

If a school district determines there are local factors that would make testing challenging or unsafe, Deveaux said, they could choose to not administer the exam.

Maine also is moving to a new testing vendor after four years using the empowerME test administered by the Georgia-based company Cognia for grades 3-8. Deveaux said the state hopes the move will result in more timely and accessible data for school districts and a testing format that will be less time consuming and can be administered remotely.

“We anticipate getting this contract finalized in the coming weeks, and will work with the vendor on their spring testing window to ensure Maine schools have the flexibility and time to use the assessment and data,” she said.

Standardized testing during the coronavirus pandemic has been a point of debate around the country. Proponents of testing point to the importance of having reliable data to measure the pandemic’s impact on students while critics say it is logistically difficult and not the best use of time when in-person learning is already compromised.

Some Maine school districts, including Portland and South Portland, said earlier this year they were not planning on administering the ACCESS for ELL, a standardized test for English language learners, due to logistics and questions about the value of the data. The testing window for the ACCESS test typically opens in January and the state did extend the testing window this year to provide for more flexibility.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress – taken every two years and the only standardized test given to students in every state – was cancelled this year and postponed until 2022 due to the large number of students learning remotely.

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