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Scores of education deans signed a letter to Rep. Bobby Scott (D-VA), chair of the House Education Committee, in opposition to the recent announcement by the Biden administration that it would not grant waivers to states from the annual testing mandate in the Every Student Succeeds Act, which originated as part of the No Child Left Behind Act of 2002. The letter was written before the confirmation of Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. The signatures were gathered by Kevin Kumashiro as spokesman for the group.
Dear Chairman Scott,
I am writing as a leader of Education Deans for Justice and Equity (https://educationdeans.org), an alliance of hundreds of education deans across the country with expertise in educational equity and civil rights.
We, in EDJE, are deeply concerned by the recent announcement by the U.S. Department of Education that it will not grant state waivers of ESSA mandates for 2021 student testing, as it did in 2020. Two weeks ago, we sent the attached letter to Secretary-Designate Miguel Cardona, signed by over 200 deans and other leaders, that outlines what we believe the research makes clear, namely, that there are fundamental problems with these tests, that the administration and use of these tests widen (not remediate) inequities, and that these problems are exacerbated in the midst of the pandemic.
We agree that we need data to make informed decisions and to address long-standing and emergent challenges, but to do so, we describe the different types of data that are needed and the assessments–other than state testing–that are more appropriate for such purposes. We urge you and Congress to act quickly and forcefully to insist that the Department waive mandates for 2021 student testing, and we are available to work and meet with you in support of this change.
The letter, included in the link below, begins:
As the nation struggles to address the impact of the pandemic on public schools, we urge the U.S. Department of Education to waive federal ESSA student-testing requirements for all states for 2020-2021 (as was done for 2019-2020).
We, Education Deans for Justice and Equity (EDJE), are an alliance of hundreds of deans of schools and colleges of education across the country who draw on our expertise as researchers and leaders to highlight three research findings to support our request.
First, problems abound with high-stakes standardized testing of students, particularly regarding validity, reliability, fairness, bias, and cost. National research centers and organizations have synthesized these findings about standardized testing, including the National Educational Policy Center and FairTest. For example, some of the harmful impacts of high-stakes testing include: distorted and less rigorous curriculum; the misuse of test scores, including grade retention, tracking, and teacher evaluation; deficit framing (blaming) of students and their families and ineffective remedial interventions, particularly for communities of color and communities in poverty; and heightened anxiety and shame for teachers and students. Researchers have also spoken specifically about annual state testing, like in California and Texas, arguing that such assessments should not be administered, much less be the basis for high-stakes decision making.
Second, these problems are amplified during the pandemic. The research brief, The Shift to Online Education During and Beyond the Pandemic, describes the “law of amplification” and ways that the shift to online education widens long-standing inequities and injustices in education, particularly for groups already disadvantaged in schools. These challenges with technology, logistics, and safety would unquestionably apply to testing, whether in-person or online. For example, districts that administer computer-based tests in-person are now trying to determine how to recall computers that were loaned to students in order to have enough computers in school, which in effect, means that those students will not have computers for remote learning for weeks. In fact, with the vast changes and differences in curriculum and instruction that resulted from the shift to online education over the past year—that is, the reduction in opportunities to learn, particularly in schools that were already under-resourced—the content validity of the tests is almost certainly compromised, as described by the National Education Policy Center. Furthermore, with so much trauma in the lives of students and families, schools need to invest all they can into quality time with students, supplemental tutoring, and enrichment and wellness programs, not stress-inducing, time-consuming tests that provide narrow data of limited use.