As We Safely Open the Schools, We Must Close the Tests

The use of standardized testing writ-large does not, and never will, serve the agenda of moving our nation forward in education -- be it for students or school communities.  Any rationale for utilizing standardized testing to support the view that these assessments improve student learning and improve the effort to bolster student achievement in poor and underserved communities must be reconsidered especially during the ongoing global pandemic.

Beyond the fact that as of March 2021we are still in the grips of the pandemic, the student experience since September 2020, when the school year began, has been anything but normal. The use of the existing assessment system at this time remains highly inappropriate. It simply defies any sense of reason, logic, or practicality in the face of an obvious alternative to “this is what we have always done.” As we race towards the eventual full and safe reopening of our school systems across the United States, we must now call for a complete abandonment of the use of the traditional metrics for assessing the performance of students, their teachers, and their schools.

To state the obvious, this is no typical school year.  Given that, what should replace the usual end-of-year assessment system?  Our assessment of the year gone by should take the form of a narrative of what students, teachers and learning communities experienced, both individually and cumulatively, during this once in a century pandemic.  Authentic assessments that reveal what students have learned, locally determined diagnostic tools to capture what must be addressed moving forward should become the norm in the spring of 2021. This unique end of year reflection must take the place of the “standardized” one-size fits all barometer of the “how are we doing” snapshot of educational performance that is a perennial exercise across our country.

As much as there is broad agreement to opening the schools, there should be equally broad agreement for the cancellation of having students sit for an assessment of their aptitude having spent a year in remote or hybrid learning.  To think that we can discern any legitimate determination of teacher effectiveness or student competency based upon student outcomes of the testing regimen given the uneven playing field that students in rural, urban, suburban, ventilated and unventilated school systems across this land experienced is as realistic as measuring a cup of water using a strainer.

Having spent a full year missing much of the student experience in school, we must acknowledge how radically different things were for children.  Even as schools attempted to create some semblance of normalcy, the school year as a whole from September through April will have been an incomplete experience at best.

Any casual observer recognizes a glaring departure for students from their normal experiences, namely to have full access engaged with their teachers in direct face-to-face instruction, to be with their fellow classmates on a daily basis with the benefits of socialization, and in some cases millions of students experiencing food insecurity, among other health and wellness challenges. We must also recognize the missing support of necessary interventions that come with social workers, counselors, as well as complete access to music and art programs and other activities that feed the heart and soul of what it means to truly be in school.

My plea to open the schools and close the tests is also a challenge for any lawmaker, policymaker, parent, school administrator, journalist, or really any citizen of this county to put themselves in the shoes of an 8, 9 or 10 year old.  Having experienced a year during COVID-19 we can not tell children“don’t worry, just do your best on the test” (a refrain that has been commonplace for students especially among those children who struggle in such high stakes situations, even in normal times).

This is beyond illogical, and borders on being ridiculous. Ultimately, it is an assault on our common sensibilities of what we should expect and demand of how to best meet the needs of the children of the United States.

Open the schools, close the tests.

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