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The Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education has made several changes to testing for this spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

DESE plans to reduce testing time, remove restrictions on district test windows, extend the statewide spring test window if needed and suggest school districts reconsider using end-of-course exams as a percentage of final grades this spring.

Last month, the State Board of Education suspended use of state assessments in state and federal accountability systems for this school year under DESE's recommendation. DESE officials emphasized the importance of testing as a way to gain an understanding of the successes and challenges schools face because of the pandemic.

DESE plans to reduce testing time up to 25 percent this spring by removing field test items. Field test items don't count toward the test score and are being tried so makers of the test see how they work and to determine which ones to use next year.

Blaine Henningsen, DESE assistant commissioner for the Office of College and Career Readiness, said the department wants school districts to use the entire testing window to administer assessments this spring to reduce stress on teachers and students. The high school end-of-course testing window is three months, from March to May.

"We're going to encourage folks that they don't have to do all their testing in one week or two weeks," Henningsen said. "Spread it out. Give it in smaller chunks so it won't feel like such a huge burden."

While school districts can still use end-of-course exams as a percentage of final grades this semester, DESE is encouraging districts to reconsider the practice.

"We want them to really think long and hard about that," Henningsen said.

Future assessment plans for the 2021-22 school year through the 2024-25 school year are to: focus on priority learning standards; prepare for federal policy direction; and explore the possibility of using "innovations such as through-course assessments, competency-based assessments and adaptive test engines," according to DESE.

Through-course assessments are completed throughout the school year as opposed to an end-of-year exam; competency-based assessments provides specific feedback about student performance; and computerized adaptive tests adapt to the students' ability.

DESE plans to identify priority learning standards this spring and ensure assessments emphasize these standards and align to MSIP 6 policy goals, particularly in instructional process improvement and ensuring students are on track for success, Henningsen said.

MSIP 6 is the latest iteration of the Missouri School Improvement Program, the standards for classifying and accrediting school districts. DESE is developing MSIP 6 rubrics this spring and launching them this fall.

"We look forward to working with the education community in Missouri as we move forward for improvements in our assessment programming," Henningsen said.

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