Monday, April 19, 2021

Coronavirus Has Made Assessments More Necessary, Not Less

Stop me if you have heard this before: People have complaints about standardized testing.

This is not new. It is the same dance we see around this time every year, but this time it’s to a different song. All over the country schools, parents, and other stakeholders are crying foul over plans to go through with typical standardized testing despite the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent schools shifts. The general argument is that students and by extension their schools could not possibly have been expected to make typical progress over the last year due to all of the closings and time spent on remote learning.

On the surface this sounds like a valid complaint. At least more valid than the usual complaints against testing. But in fact, the opposite is true. The impact of COVID is precisely the reason we need testing. Perhaps this year more than ever.

The real purpose of any summative assessment is to learn what students know and do not know.

There is a fundamental misunderstanding about what a standardized, summative exam is supposed to be. This is likely because some districts and municipalities “punish” schools over bad results. Therefore, many have learned to perceive end-of-year testing as a “gotcha” moment for schools that serve high-need or low-income students. This is unfortunate because the real purpose of any summative assessment is to learn what students know and do not know. That data is always important, district responses to that data withstanding.  

There are way too many variables and unknowns to not have some type of uniform way of measuring what students have learned or missed.

As important as it is to have this information in a regular year, it is even more so now. This type of event is virtually unprecedented in the modern era. We have no idea what impact it will have long-term, and absent data, we don’t even know what impact it will have short-term. Virtually all students were subject to a brief pause in their education which would necessitate evaluation on its own. But upon return, so many students have engaged in so many different types of learning models. And unfortunately, in the case of e-learning, many students never even logged on. There are way too many variables and unknowns to not have some type of uniform way of measuring what students have learned or missed.

It is important to note that many states have already announced that schools will be “held-harmless” for test results, which takes any kind of punitive measures off the table in most cases. This in the past has been the main argument against testing.

Unfortunately running from data has become a national past-time. We didn’t need a pandemic to argue about this, but it has given people who were already opposed to testing more ammunition. But at the end of the day, it is important to remember that this is not about adults. It is about students. Not having data on Johnny’s reading ability doesn’t make him read any better. It just means that we won’t know how to best serve him.

This post originally appeared on Indy K12.
Photo by mehmet, Adobe Stock.

Andrew Pillow
Andrew Pillow is a fifth grade social studies teacher at KIPP Indianapolis, a charter school where he has taught since 2011. He is also a former Teach Plus Policy Fellow and he has taught technology and social issues.

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