Stop Missouri's DESE From Spending CARES Act Funding on a Standardized Test

Stop Missouri's DESE From Spending CARES Act Funding on a Standardized Test

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UPDATE: Commissioner Margie Vandeven emailed district leaders this afternoon to explain in more detail the test they are creating using CARES Act Funding. She said much of what we already knew, but also pointed out that "...these are not required assessments." This makes the use of $10 million even more wasteful as many teachers and school districts will not be giving the assessment. Please continue to sign and share the petition to put a stop to this frivolous spending. 

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Presently, the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education(DESE) and MO Education Commissioner are planning to use almost 20% of CARES Act funding to create a standardized test which would be given at the beginning of the new school year, which is unnecessary and a harmful misuse of Emergency Relief funds. Missouri educators and parents are asking that DESE not spend any CARES Act funding on the creation of this standardized test. Instead, we are asking them to invest this money directly in our schools. 

DESE has said this test will not be used as an accountability piece, but rather as a tool to identify “learning loss.” Not only do Missouri educators know their students have experienced learning loss, but they have already or are currently in the process of developing assessments to help them identify learning loss or knowledge gaps that are directly related to building shutdowns. The standardized test DESE is planning to create will not provide data that measures learning loss that is a direct result of shutdowns because it will not access the specific Missouri Learning Standards  individual teachers or schools taught virtually during that time. Tests being created and administered in individual buildings and classrooms will and will not cost the state millions of dollars. 

Not only is it grossly irresponsible to invest so much money in a standardized test that -- according to DESE -- will solely function to (ineffectively) identify learning loss, but this comes at a time when education has already received massive budget cuts at both the state and federal level. Additionally, we are facing Executive threats of further cuts if school buildings do not open “as normal.” Instead of using CARES Act funding to create a standardized test that will do little else than serve as a vague data point, all emergency relief funding would be better invested in ensuring that every school in the state of MO is as safe as possible for students, families, and school staff and providing resources to aid teachers in closing learning loss or knowledge gaps we know our students experienced during building shutdowns. 

In addition to this test being expensive and unnecessary, testing our students in this way at the beginning of the school year could be detrimental to the social-emotional well-being of our students. Our students’ social-emotional needs need to be at the forefront of the conversation surrounding the beginning of this new academic year as they are returning to us not only with pre-existing trauma, but with new traumas directly related to COVID-19. Schools serve as a safe-haven for many and ensure that students’ basic needs are met, a fact that has dominated many of the arguments regarding reopening school buildings. This test is counterintuitive to that as standardized tests, even ones that are not used as an accountability tool, are stressful and time consuming. This test would have to be administered at the very start of the school year  before any new teaching has occurred to avoid invalidating the results. This would interfere not only with academic advancement, but with relationship-building, which is vital to a successful school year for both students and teachers. 

In short, we are asking DESE not to spend any CARES Act funding on the creation of this standardized test. Instead, we are asking them to invest this money directly in our schools.