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JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. – Missouri’s education leaders are making a big change to standardized tests due to the pandemic.

The Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) canceled its statewide required assessments in the spring because of COVID-19. Board of education members discussed Tuesday what to do this school year since more than 10 percent of all Missouri schools still haven’t returned to in-person learning.

“There are so many issues in education right now, but this is one of them,” DESE Commissioner Margie Vandeven said. “We don’t want our educators spending their time right now thinking about a standardized test. We want them to be educating our kids.”

The board voted during its monthly meeting Tuesday to alter the state’s use of standardize testing.

“There’s lot of different models out there, some are still totally on-site, you have hybrid models, you have virtual models, which one performs best and what are the warnings from that,” President of the Board of Education Charlie Shields said to the board.

During the meeting, Shields compared not requiring the assessments to the medical field when a doctor neglects treatment.

“To say we are not going to do an assessment, you know, and use the analogy in the medical field, but that would be education malpractice if we refuse to do this,” Shields said.

DESE said nearly 75 percent of schools in Missouri offer at least some type of in-person learning.

“What you’ll see with our distance [learning], again it started off by dropping a little bit in October and then the first part of November it started raising, raising and raising,” DESE Chief Data Officer Jeff Falter said.

Some of the board member said standardize tests are important, especially this year.

“I think we need to understand if we did have a significant achievement loss as a result of this,” Shields said.

Normally, test results are submitted to the state and federal accountability systems.

“We were one of the very first states to jump in and say we need to cancel assessments because it’s not where people need to be spending their energy right now,” Vandeven said. “We believe if they [teachers] continue to educate the kids to the best of their abilities, the score generally take care of themselves.”

State board member Pamela Westbrooks-Hodge said she is concerned about creating a “win-win” for the state and also districts.

“Will this official data be used in a punitive manner and fall into the hands of folk that will use it against the district?” Westbrooks-Hodge asked the board. “And secondly, the time that it takes to administer the test, when the priority is just keeping your head above water in response to the pandemic.”

Shields said requiring standardized tests would allow districts and the state to come up with a game plan.

“Once we know that, I think it allows us to begin to think about what does an appropriate remediation plan look like,” Shields said. “But you can’t developed a remediation plan if you don’t understand the challenge out there.”

Vandeven told board members the U.S. Department of Education announced in September it was expecting every district to assess their students in some manner.

“Federal rules state that every kid from grades three through eight and at least once in high school would be assessed,” Vandeven said. “We don’t know what the new administration will do or try to do.”

The board voted to still require standardized tests for schools this year, but under the new rule, the results won’t be used for state or federal accountability. Instead, results will be used by the district to see where students stand compared to a year without a pandemic.