Equity Standardized Testing

Jan Resseger: Resuming Standardized Testing in the Midst of a Pandemic Is Absurd

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Jan Resseger writes here about the absurdity of the demand by major editorial boards (the New York Times and the Washington Post) to resume standardized testing.

Under normal circumstances, without a pandemic, the tests are useless. As I have written before (and Jan quotes in her article), the tests do not provide teachers or parents with timely or useful information about students’ progress, as the editorial writers wrongly assume. The teachers typically are not allowed to see the questions on the tests, they are never allowed to discuss them with students or other teachers, and they never see how their own students responded (rightly or wrongly) to specific questions. The scores are reported 4-6 months after the tests were given. The scores become a way to tell students how they ranked, but not what they need to learn. They serve no diagnostic purpose. Imagine going to your doctor with a sharp pain in your stomach, taking a battery of tests, then learning that you will get the results in 4-6 months, but no prescriptions since you are not permitted to know how you did on the tests, just how you did in comparison to others of your age and weight.

Resseger writes that if parents want to know how their child is doing, they should rely on the professional teachers who see them every day:

The Post would appear to trust big data and distrust educational professionals.  As soon as schools can be opened in person, professionally educated and prepared teachers and public school staff will be assessing what students need, adapting curricula accordingly, and helping parents support their children’s learning. Teachers have been doing their best throughout this school year to meet children’s and parents’ needs, although the disruption of switching back and forth from online to in-person to on-line learning as COVID-19 infections have surged and abated and surged has made the year chaotic for families and for educators.

The standardized tests will tell the public what it already knows. Students in affluent districts will have higher scores than students who live in under-resourced districts. The scores will be highly correlated with family income.

Resseger writes:

Injustice in American public education has been defined for generations by what Jonathan Kozol in 1991 described as Savage Inequalities in investment between wealthy and poor school districts.  Programs like the federal Title I program for compensatory funding for schools serving concentrations of poor children as well the states’ school funding distribution formulas are intended, despite their inadequacy, to invest federal and state dollars in the school districts lacking local property taxing capacity.  Inequities will persist until our society finds a way, in the poorest school districts, to invest in pre-Kindergarten and wraparound Community Schools; small classes; plenty of counselors, nurses and librarians; and the kind of curricular enrichment children in wealthy exurbs take for granted.

This COVID-19 year is an excellent time for the federal government to invest in educational equity and to incentivize states to increase their investments in the poorest school districts. It is a bad time to relaunch the failed high-stakes testing regime of No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds Act.

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