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One of the first and most important decisions that Secretary-designate Miguel Cardona will make is whether to grant waivers to the states that want to suspend the annual federal testing mandated by the Every Student Succeeds Act. Some states–like New York–intend to request waivers, in light of the turmoil and unequal access to education caused by the pandemic. Others–like Texas and Arkansas–plan to proceed with their regular testing program regardless of the harm inflicted on students, teachers, and families by the past year.
Education Trust, headed by former Secretary of Education John King, has organized several groups to demand that Secretary Cardona refuse any requests by states for waivers. It makes no sense for a group of corporate reformers to insist that the Secretary of Education reject the requests of states that sincerely believe their students will be harmed if the federal government refuses to grant waivers at their request. Shouldn’t states have the authority to decide what is in the best interests of their students?
As I explained in my article in the Washington Post, the standardized tests have no diagnostic value. The tests are given in the spring, and the results are returned in the fall, six months later. Teachers never learn what their individual students do or do not know. The tests do not help the students or their teachers. They do not reduce inequity. They do not narrow or close achievement gaps. Because of the tests, schools have sacrificed the arts, civics, history, science, even recess. They have harmed the quality of education.
It is time to turn the corner on two decades of failed test-and-punish strategies. The last NAEP showed that the kids at the very bottom actually lost ground in recent years, despite (or because of) the heavy emphasis on testing. If we really cared about equity, we would reduce class sizes in the high-needs schools and make sure that they were staffed with experienced teachers. There are many positive ways to improve the schools, and more standardized testing is not one of them.
What can parents do? Opt out. It is wrong to test students this spring when access to education was disrupted by the pandemic. Do not allow your child to take the tests. They are pointless and meaningless, this year more than usual.