A petition, signed by over 20,000 educators, has been circulating on Facebook and other social media websites. It claims that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) and the Missouri 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.”
The petition gets a few things wrong.
The first problem is the claim about the test using 20 percent of the funds. According to the fiscal guidance on DESE’s website, “90% of (CARES Act) funds must be distributed based on the Title I formula (FY19), with equitable services provided to non-public schools.” Title I funds go to items such as instructional supports or behavioral programs in schools. That leaves 10 percent for “administrative costs and the remainder for emergency needs as determined by the state educational agency to address issues responding to coronavirus, which may be addressed through the use of grants or contracts." The diagnostic test for students would be constrained to this portion of the money. DESE’s current proposal for the test would use $10 million, less than 6 percent of the CARES Act budget.
Second, a DESE administered diagnosis test would not cost the state millions of dollars, as the petition goes on to suggest. While Missourians do pay federal taxes, CARES Act money has already been allocated to states for things like testing.
Third, despite what some may think, DESE has an obligation to find out how much learning loss has occurred throughout Missouri. We know COVID-19 has caused more learning loss than what would normally occur over the course of the summer due to additional missed class time in the spring. To start addressing the issues caused by COVID-19 learning loss, we first need to understand the extent of the problem. Rather than a “misuse” of emergency relief funds, this test could be a crucial first step in helping our students.
Fourth, if individual schools or teachers create their own tests, as is suggested in the petition, it would not help identify which schools need the most support. If you ask more than 500 districts to create their own diagnosis assessment, you may get 500 completely different assessments. Without a common assessment, there would be no accountability and no basis to develop plans to address shortfalls.
To my fellow teachers who signed the petition: Let’s do our homework on the facts and let’s instead support DESE in gathering the data it needs.