RICHMOND — Virginia’s education leaders want to cancel the state’s Standards of Learning testing this year as schools remain closed in response to the spread of the coronavirus.

The state Education Department announced Tuesday that the agency will seek “maximum flexibility for schools and students to mitigate the impact of COVID-19, including relief from federal and state requirements related to testing.”

The U.S. Department of Education said last week that it is weighing scrapping the required annual tests for closed schools.

“This is an unprecedented situation with schools closed statewide for two weeks and the very real possibility of a significantly longer shutdown,” Superintendent of Public Instruction James Lane said.

“VDOE has advised school divisions of the flexibility they already have to delay Standards of Learning testing, but it is clear that we now have to take additional steps to ensure that schools and students — especially seniors completing their graduation requirements — are not adversely impacted by circumstances beyond their control.”

Gov. Ralph Northam last week ordered every K-12 school in the state to close through at least March 27. Richmond Public Schools has already announced an extension on that closure, shuttering its 44 schools until at least April 13.

Northam’s decision came as eighth graders and high school students in the state were taking Standards of Learning writing tests.

In a news release, the Virginia Department of Education said it has already extended statewide testing windows for all SOL tests, but the agency is “planning for further flexibility.”

“Given what we are now hearing about the potential duration of the coronavirus pandemic, we now have to seek further flexibility related to state testing. To do this, the commonwealth must have relief from the annual testing requirements under the federal Every Student Succeeds Act,” Lane said. “Last week, the U.S. Department of Education said it would consider issuing waivers for individual schools impacted by COVID-19. We are beyond that now, and ask our federal partners for a process to grant statewide relief so states and schools can focus on the health and wellbeing of students.”

ESSA, the replacement for the controversial No Child Left Behind, requires annual testing in third through eighth grades in reading and math, while requiring states to test students in science at least once during elementary, middle and high school.

Dan Gecker, the president of the Virginia Board of Education, said the governing body will also look at the state’s accreditation regulations, which weigh test results as one of the factors in a school’s rating.

“These are extraordinary times and it would not be fair to our students, teachers, principals and other educators to have the accreditation ratings of their schools suffer next year because of the coronavirus pandemic,” Gecker said.

Lane has also told agency staff to review state laws and regulations related to graduation requirements “to determine what steps must be taken to ensure that seniors who would otherwise graduate this spring are not denied diplomas.”

“I want students and parents to know that Governor Northam and I are committed to taking every step possible to minimize the impact of coronavirus on students and to ensure that our seniors are able to graduate,” Lane said. “This includes exploring exemptions from requirements unrelated to coursework for students due to graduate this spring.”

Several states, including Indiana, South Carolina, Texas and Washington, have already announced plans to cancel standardized testing.

It will be updated.)

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Twitter: @jmattingly306

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