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State Superintendent Hoffman, education expert ask for legislature to 'grade with grace' during pandemic year

Students, school
Posted at 11:45 AM, Jan 08, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-09 16:13:03-05

Arizona state legislators go into session on Monday and one of the biggest challenges ahead they will have to face in the middle of this pandemic is schools and standardized testing.

The former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos made it clear in the fall that states would not be receiving exemptions for standardized testing, which typically culminates in the spring.

Standardized testing is directly tied to funding sources.

State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman tells ABC 15 the state receives over $1 billion from the federal government for school funding, based on student performance in standardized tests.

Hoffman will be asking the state legislature to withhold the A-F letter grading from schools this year due to the learning loss expected to be shown in state tests.

"An average student will come out of this pandemic with an average of (a) 3-month learning loss. For Black and Latino students, that learning loss will be 9 to 10 months," says Rhonda Cagle, an education expert from the West Valley.

Cagle adds that there is no question learning loss is happening across all schools in Arizona.

"We need to separate out assessment and the accountability that normally accompanies those A-F letter grades for schools," adds Cagle.

In other words, looking at the standardized testing that normally happens in the spring as a way to see how much growth is still needed rather than a punitive action towards schools.

"Grading with grace is essentially what we need right now," she adds.

That is the same sentiment State Superintendent Kathy Hoffman is advocating for.

"In speaking with different school leaders, I've asked them how does it look and I've heard pretty significant concerns about how their student data is looking compared to previous years," says Hoffman.

Hoffman alone can't make the exception- it's in the hands of the legislature. Standardized testing typically happens between March and April.

The tests are performed in the classroom, in some cases students testing in 2 to 3-hour blocks, something difficult to do during a pandemic when most kids are learning virtually.

"Through the State Board of Education, we just got approved to extend the testing through May," adds Hoffman.

The message to the legislature is clear.

"Our schools have gone above and beyond and our legislature should do the same," adds Cagle.

Some of the remedial tasks being presented include funding for summer school or adapting and changing school calendars so that children are in school a bit longer this year due to the expected learning loss.

Hoffman adds that some of the benchmark tests that were done in the fall have already shown students are delayed in different areas.