State standardized tests are forcing students back into the classroom amid COVID-19 fears

HENRY COUNTY, Ga. — Parents in Henry County say they’re being forced to make the difficult decision to send their students back into the classroom in order to take mandatory state tests.

A parent, who didn’t want to be identified, told Channel 2′s Tyisha Fernandes that she lost two uncles just this week to COVID-19. She believes her grandson caught the virus at his Henry County school and unknowingly infected the whole family.

“I shouldn’t be terrified to go to the grocery store and I shouldn’t be afraid to hug my own mother,” she said.

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She has now taken a stance against sending her grandson back to school for in-person learning.

“I said, ‘No that’s it. You’re not going back. You’re all staying home,’” she said.

But it’s not that easy. In Henry County, and across the state, state-required standardized testing must be taken in person. Henry County schools emailed the parent informing her that taking state standardized tests are a federal requirement. Students will be expected to come into the building for a week to complete the tests.

State officials weren’t in favor of students returning to campus for the tests either and applied for a waiver. The waiver was denied.

State officials told Fernandes that the test must be administered on site for security concerns. Remote testing is not a viable option.

All school districts in Georgia will be required to complete these tests in person.

The state sent Fernandes the following statement:

“The federal government is still requiring states to administer state assessments (we requested a waiver that was denied -- we do plan to resubmit that waiver request to the new federal administration but cannot guarantee it will be approved). Given security concerns state tests cannot be administered remotely.

“We are required to administer assessments unless and until a federal waiver is received, and there is not a provision in state or federal law allowing students or parents/guardians to opt out of required student assessments. With that said, student safety must come first. We have taken steps to remove the impact of the tests on student grades and promotion decisions. We have also advised school districts, in cases where a student or parent/guardian informs them that they will not be participating in state testing due to the pandemic, that they first explain the purpose of the assessment and how the results will be used, along with the policies and procedures the school and district have put into place to minimize the threat of COVID exposure during testing. With this information available, should a student or parent/guardian still decline to participate in state testing during the pandemic, we are recommending that the school or district keep appropriate documentation on file and provide the student with an alternate and appropriate learning opportunity.”

“We have also worked with districts to provide as much flexibility as possible to assist with the appropriate and safe administration of Georgia Milestones and other required assessments. Districts who would normally utilize the Winter EOC window can utilize the EOC spring mid-month or spring administration windows, as needed, to ensure a more appropriate amount of instructional time is available prior to testing. Districts can also work with us to extend their windows later in the school day to include afternoon and evening sessions if needed. Districts can also utilize different testing schedules to complete required assessments in a safe manner. We are also extending state testing windows to provide more time to complete assessments. There may be other flexibilities that districts need and we will work with them to provide as much flexibility as possible.”