What President Biden’s EOs mean for state testing

What President Biden’s EOs mean for state testing

By Dale Chu

Joe Biden wasted no time last week in signing a flurry of executive orders (EOs) in the first hours of his presidency. Two actions in particular are worth noting because of the language employed and its potential implications for state testing.

Consider the title of the first one:

“Executive Order on Ensuring a Data-Driven Response to COVID-19 and Future High-Consequence Public Health Threats”

While this EO refers to COVID testing, it could just as easily be used to underscore the importance of annual assessments. Specifically, this EO admirably calls for collaboration and coordination among federal agencies “to work on COVID-19- and pandemic-related data issues.” Without making light of the life and death stakes behind health testing, another high-consequence pandemic-related data challenge will be getting a good handle on the extent to which our nation’s students have struggled since schools physically shuttered—and how to best go about the process of education recovery.

The second EO directly addresses school reopening and provides specific assignments to the Departments of Education, Health and Human Services, and the Federal Communications Commission. What caught my eye here was this bullet point:

(vii)   coordinate with the Director of the Institute of Education Sciences to facilitate, consistent with applicable law, the collection of data necessary to fully understand the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on students and educators, including data on the status of in-person learning [emphasis added].  These data shall be disaggregated by student demographics, including race, ethnicity, disability, English-language-learner status, and free or reduced lunch status or other appropriate indicators of family income;

Although this doesn’t call for state testing in so many words, it would be odd to talk about data collection in this manner and not follow through with annual assessments this year. Indeed, it would make little sense for the president to draw attention to the role data can play in the recovery only to have his education secretary waive the federal testing requirement away. As the calls to skip testing for a second consecutive year continue to grow, the new administration would do well to refer back to these two EOs.

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