South Carolina Education Superintendent Spearman says state must give year-end tests in person in schools


COLUMBIA - The federal government denied South Carolina's request to skip formal in-person testing at the end of the school year because of the COVID-19 pandemic, state Education Superintendent Molly Spearman said Monday.

But the U.S. Department of Education did agree to suspend penalties if less than 95% of students take the tests, Spearman said.

The tests must be given in person because of high security. South Carolina has been assessing what students know to date this year through interim "formative assessments" that can be given virtually. They have already taken two sets this school year, and Spearman told federal officials she planned a third to cover the typical end-of-school-year tests.

The end-of-year tests can take up to a week to administer at schools.

"It will take valuable time away from classroom teaching," Spearman said. "We so desperately need every minute we can to teach our students."

A problem with the virtual assessments at home up to this point though in South Carolina and other states has been inflated scores due to parent assistance, especially in the elementary school grades, officials have said.

South Carolina will not use the spring end-of-year testing to rate schools, however, Spearman said, like it would in a normal year.

Now that the chance to avoid the tests is gone, officials will make the best of it and try to use the data both locally and statewide to determine where students might be falling behind during the pandemic.

It could also help the state figure out how best to spend more than $2 billion of the latest federal money to help with COVID-19-caused problems.

"I did everything I could," Spearman said. "I heard loud and clear from parents and teachers we should seek a waiver."

Other states that attempted waiver requests were also denied in the process.

The tests that will be taken in school include SC READY assessments in math and English for grades three to eight; SC PASS in Science for grades four and six; and end-of-course tests in high school in biology, algebra, U.S. History and the Constitution and English.

Schools can begin offering the tests April 15. They must be taken within 30 days of the end of school, which is a 10-day-longer window than the federal government allowed before the pandemic, officials said.

Spearman said she encourages parents of virtual students to consider sending their children to school for the tests, but no one will require students to return to school for the tests. For families who have chosen virtual instruction all year, Spearman said that it should be a personal decision for them to make. For those who choose not to take the end-of-year tests, Spearman added it would be important for those students to take the final interim assessment.

Nearly every district in the state has a plan to have students back in school five days a week by mid-April, officials said.

Sumter School District's return date for five-day, in-person instruction is April 19.

Item reporter Bruce Mills contributed to this report.