Students board the bus after the first day of school at Vine Street School in Bangor in September 2014. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

Click here for the latest coronavirus news, which the BDN has made free for the public. You can support this mission by purchasing a digital subscription.

Maine’s statewide standardized tests, an annual feature of the spring school calendar, are canceled for this school year due to the school closures caused by COVID-19.

The U.S. Department of Education approved Maine’s request on Friday to cancel standardized tests for the 2019-20 school year, according to a letter from the federal department to Pender Makin, Maine’s education commissioner. The annual tests are a federal requirement.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

The cancellation comes as school closures statewide must last at least until May 1 under Gov. Janet Mills’ Tuesday stay-at-home order to residents. In Bangor, Superintendent Betsy Webb has said that school buildings are unlikely to reopen this school year.

The cancellation of the standardized tests does not apply to end-of-year examinations in individual school districts and classes, said Maine Department of Education spokeswoman Kelli Deveaux. It is up to school districts to make decisions on those exams, she said.

“Right now everything is flexible in light of the unknown that we’re all facing in response to the coronavirus outbreak,” she said.

Maine students have been taking the current version of the Maine Educational Assessments for four years, starting in the 2015-16 school year. Students take the test in math and English in grades 3-8. School districts could have chosen to administer the test any time after March 16 if the test hadn’t been called off, Deveaux said.

Maine uses the SAT as its assessment for third-year high school students. Students can request to use state SAT scores for college admissions.

That statewide test would have been administered in early April. But the College Board, the national organization that develops the SAT, has also canceled testing through May due to COVID-19.

“Post-secondary institutions are taking a look at their admissions process in light of this current situation for students that might be applying to college next year,” Deveaux said.

Even before schools extended closures beyond an initial two-week period, the department heard from teachers concerned about the emotional toll the standardized tests could take on students during a time of uncertainty and an unprecedented transition to remote learning, Deveaux said.

“Given the uncertainty of the timeline, it wouldn’t make sense to postpone later into the spring,” Deveaux said. “Students returning to their schools in itself is going to be a transition and that’s not optimal testing time. That time needs to be spent on caregiving, which is the priority for our children.”

The department will allow public comments on Maine’s application to call off the assessments until April 10.

“There is a federal statute that requires a public comment period to ensure that the community at large is aware of the change in the accountability system,” Deveaux said. “The comments are still being accepted in the light of the waiver being granted.”

For now, Deveaux said, the long-term impact of the disruption in the school year and the cancellation of standardized tests is unknown.

“We can’t predict the impact of this level of disruption because we’ve never seen this before,” Deveaux said. “But I have every confidence that schools are able to adapt and adjust to meet students where they are when they return to the classroom and continue moving them forward.”