Lisa Wososzynek

March 13, 2020

Ohio schools are actively instituting Governor Mike DeWine’s mandatory three-week closure of all elementary and secondary schools, including public, private, and charter schools, in an attempt to battle the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19). This comes at the same time that schools across the state were gearing up for spring testing season, in compliance with the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965 (ESEA). While there have not been any definitive decisions released yet by the Ohio Department of Education (ODE) regarding how the school closures will impact student testing, the U.S. Department of Education (DOE) released guidance on March 12th, 2020. The guidance sheds some light on what’s to come and hopefully provides a little relief to districts that are concerned about their ability to meet testing requirements. It also addresses the potential impact of attendance performance ratings.

Generally, assessment requirements and accountability measures impact Academic Achievement indicators used to rate each school district’s performance (School Report Cards). Traditionally, the DOE does not grant statewide waivers of assessment requirements, such as the required 95% assessment participation rate or chronic absenteeism, due to the valuable information these assessments provide. However, due to the potential impact of COVID-19, the DOE  stated in its March 12th guidance that if it becomes “not feasible” for a state to administer assessments (in part or full), it will consider targeted one-year waivers of assessment requirements. The guidance also addresses the option for a state to consider whether it is possible to adjust or extend the testing window to accommodate as many students as possible, and it acknowledges the potential impact that COVID-19 may have on other ESEA requirements, such as fiscal allocation of funds.  The DOE indicated that it will continue to address these issues as developments occur.

As for the ODE, it has communicated that its priority is to keep our students and communities safe, and “any concerns about the administration of state assessments can and will be addressed, if necessary, after student health and safety have been assured.” Prior to the mandated closure by Governor DeWine, the ODE had taken the position that spring test administration remained on schedule; with the mandated closure of schools now in place, and subject to possible extension, we also expect further clarifications from the ODE in the coming weeks, including potential adjustments to the testing time frame and/or its intent to seek a waiver from the DOE for certain testing requirements.

We will continue to update you on ESEA-related issues as more information is released from federal and state agencies so that we can all adjust to this, hopefully temporary, “new normal.”

Susan Keating Anderson is a partner at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on education law. She can be reached at sanderson@walterhav.com or at 216-928-2936.

Lisa Woloszynek is an associate at Walter | Haverfield who focuses her practice on education law. She can be reached at lwoloszynek@walterhav.com and at 216-619-7835.