Despite months of pressure and a last minute glimmer of hope in the form of SB 261-62, the Michigan Legislature did not end up granting a waiver from the state's statutory assessment requirements before leaving on their spring recess. The U.S. Department of Education (USDoE) may still come through with some form of waiver for Michigan, but we don't know what form that might take and without state action, districts will be required (at a minimum) to administer at least the SAT, PSAT, and WorkKeys assessments. Fortunately, some early worries about the impact of social distancing on desk spacing requirements have been addressed directly in the FAQ for the most recent epidemic order.

So as we head into the two-week spring break period, let's break down exactly where we stand on assessment requirements and what Principals need to know.

Desk Spacing

Let's get the most straightforward issue out of the way first. School day administrations of the PSAT, SAT, WorkKeys, M-STEP, and similar tests are subject to the same desk spacing rules as they would be in a normal school year. Yes, there is a provision in the most recent epidemic order that requires six foot spacing for "proctored, nationally-administered admissions and certification examinations," but the official FAQ on the State's website clarifies that this does not apply to state assessments administered during the school day. Here's the excerpt (our emphasis added):

"Q: Under this Order, may organizations offer in-person sittings for nationally administered proctored examinations, such as the SAT, ACT, LSAT, Medical Boards, Advanced Placement (AP) exams, or professional licensure exams?

A: Yes, provided that the examination is not offered remotely and that those taking the examination are spaced at least 6 feet apart. 

If the examination is proctored and administered by a school to its own students during the school day, it may be administered consistent with section 5(a) of the Order. Masks must be worn at all times."

Section 5(a) of the order is the section governing in-person instruction for K-12 schools. In other words, as far as the epidemic order is concerned, state assessments are treated the same as students being in class. So, unless your local health department has imposed additional rules above and beyond what the state has in place, follow whatever spacing requirements have been set by the test provider. For example, the SAT Testing Manual specifies that "Each student must be separated by a minimum of 3 feet from side to side (measure from center of desk)."

This information is consistent with what we have heard that test administrators have been told by MDE, so you and your test administrator (assuming you're not the same person) should be on the same page.

No State Waiver

There were two parts to getting a complete waiver from spring testing: a waiver from the U.S. Department of Education (USDoE) and state level legislation amending the state laws that mandate state testing. Unfortunately, the second of those things did not happen before state lawmakers left town for their two-week spring recess. That means that, even if the Legislature were to come back to Lansing on April 13 (their next scheduled day), they couldn't possibly pass a bill and get it to the Governor before April 20, the week after schools are required to administer the SAT, PSAT, and WorkKeys assessments.

This means that districts are still subject to the requirements in state law to "administer" state assessments as usual. There is a chance that the USDoE could waive the 95% participation requirement for this school year, which could lead to a whole debate about what it means to administer these tests (see the next section for a discussion). There is also a chance (but an exceedingly slim one we wouldn't bet on) that the Michigan Legislature could come back from spring break and waive any remaining assessments (e.g. M-STEP). But the bottom line for now is that nothing has changed in state law with regard to summative assessments this year.

Federal Waiver Still Up in The Air

On the federal level, the Michigan Department of Education submitted an application for spring testing flexibility in January. To date, Michigan is still waiting for a response from USDoE.

USDoE gave states lots of room to request waivers from school accountability measures for this year, including "waiving the requirement that the Academic Achievement indicator be adjusted to account for a participation rate below 95 percent." It is unclear whether this means USDoE is willing to waive the 95% participation requirement entirely and – if so – what consequences this might have on state assessment.

Because the Michigan Legislature did not act prior to leaving for their spring recess, even if USDoE were to grant the state a full waiver, schools would still be required under state law to "administer" these assessments. But does administering the assessment just mean offering it to students (in which case districts could conceivably make testing optional this year) or do students have to participate?

There's no clear answer since it's never been an issue before. The federal 95% participation rate requirement has meant that districts didn't really have an option.

For now, this is all speculation. Hopefully, if USDoE decides to grant a participation rate waiver, the announcement will come with details on what the decision means for schools.