I have said it before, and current events continue to prove it true, national and global crises such as this pandemic, completely highlight disparities in our public education system, primarily affecting students of color. If a policy or practice was a problem before, it is most certainly a major problem now. The best example of a heightened educational flaw is standardized testing. Standardized testing has never been proven to be an accurate way to determine the brilliance and fundamental understanding of most students. Even some students who test extremely well can be excellent test takers and great at memorization, but struggle with core meanings and understandings. Standardized testing does not prove actual retention. I did not have faith in this testing then and I still lack trust now.
Should standardized testing cease? Under COVID-19 circumstances, it absolutely should. Under normal circumstances I would urge them to be used as a guide to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the school - not the student. It can be used as a great marker to develop and alter teaching strategies. Education really is not ‘one size fits all,’ and I do believe standardized testing can paint a picture of how many “sizes” there are and help establish best teaching practices. But that was then. Now, you just can’t hold teachers nor students accountable to performing at the state’s required testing standard when so many variables are now in place. Access to technology, home environment, home stress levels, and lack of human interaction all impact our student’s ability to test, learn, and thrive.
I, many of my colleagues, and scores of concerned parents are not the only ones who feel this way. Many politicians are stepping up to advocate for student best interests too, and status quo - standardized testing isn’t it! Democratic senators introduced a bill package late in October to pause most standardized tests for the 2020-2021 school year. “Our students are coming back to school after a long break from in-person instruction due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and we don’t know exactly what the impact will be on the upcoming school year. As a result, meaningful face-to-face instruction between teachers and their students will be vital to catch students up and get them back on track.” Sen. Polehanki said. In Michigan, Sen. Geiss affirmed, “With our children’s education and future at risk, it doesn’t make sense for us to get back to ‘business as usual’ in the midst of an unprecedented moment. We need to take the time to think critically about how to best ensure that all students get the education they need while teachers can safely evaluate students' growth and comprehension of the material.”- NBC New 10 (WILX).
I am not suggesting that we no longer assess students; rather, I am advocating that we cease all penalties that come attached to standardized testing that is highly inappropriate in today’s climate. Standardized or even regular subject testing should not allow for children to be left behind or forced into summer school. Especially not this year! Students should be assessed however a school feels best highlights learning taking into account multiple factors. Students who cannot prove to have an understanding of their required material should receive extra help and a customized learning plan. Standardized testing must cease immediately and take cookie-cutter education completely with it. Three things must happen in conjunction with pausing or ceasing standardized testing:
Replace with school not state issued diagnostic testing.
Remember, the goal is not to cease assessing students but to properly understand the knowledge they have retained. This can only be done on a smaller scale by the educators who have a familiarity of what the students should know.
Remove time constraints (to a degree).
Telling a child they have 20 minutes to answer 40 questions immediately strikes fear and can hinder successful test taking. Instead, don’t use a timer and let them know they have the whole class period but if they need reasonable extended time afterwards, they can be afforded such time. More peace and less stress will make test taking more efficient.
Prior to testing, ensure that students have access to what they need to succeed. Survey students and parents and let them know that solutions are available if they need help. Students need access to technology, WI-FI, books, school supplies, and comfortable living environments full of necessities to succeed in school. Testing students who lack any of the above is ineffective and cruel.
I applaud any educator or leader who pushes to be flexible with our nation’s students during this pandemic. Flexibility does not mean low expectations. Flexibility and compassion really do go a long way! I only hope that we continue this out of the box thinking post pandemic! Removing dated practices and addressing specific needs of students has always been the answer to successful education with or without a global crisis.