How Two Years of Pandemic Disruption Could Shake Up the Debate Over Standardized Testing -Edweek

The week the U.S. Department of Education told states it wouldn’t issue blanket waivers from mandated annual assessments, the creators of a national guide instructing parents on how to opt their children out of the standardized tests reported a spike in web traffic to the site.

“Parents are hopping mad,” said Bob Schaeffer, the interim executive director of FairTest, an organization that promotes testing opt outs and created the guide. “If schools don’t cancel the tests, parents will.”

Some of the questions educators face on standardized testing during the pandemic:

Should students be tested at this time?

What are we testing?

Advocates for testing — including civil rights organizations, a vocal group of lawmakers, and some educational leaders concerned about equity —say such suggestions may be overblown. But, after states cancelled tests entirely in 2020, some of those same advocates fear that two consecutive years of disruption in state testing—be it through opt outs, modifications, or complete cancellations — could amount to the country taking its foot off the gas in its commitment to broad assessments.

How Much Real Learning Time Are Students Losing During the Pandemic?3 min rea

“What I fear is we just don’t know enough right now,” said Cheryl Oldham, vice president of education policy at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has advocated for federal testing mandates. “We just won’t know the implications of this year for a while.”

Although President Joe Biden criticized high-stakes testing as a candidate, one of his Education Department’s first acts was to leave the tests in place, even as many testing opponents argued that an unprecedented year of disruption caused by the COVID-19 pandemic gave a good reason to cancel them.

In addition to concerns about the reliability of scores for tests given during the pandemic, schools will face a host of logistical challenges, like deciding how to test remote learners, finding off-site space that allows for greater social distancing, and finding adults to supervise testing at a time when staffing is already a challenge.

Testing supporters were heartened when the Education Department said in its Feb. 22 guidance that states must conduct tests this year. But the guidance provides a lot of wiggle room, allowing states to bypass requirements that they use the scores to rate schools, to delay when they are administered, and to forgo the requirement that 95 percent of students participate, a change that could open the door for more opt outs.


An alliance in support of assessment

Congress reaffirmed its commitment to test-based accountability when it passed the Every Student Succeeds Act in 2015 after years of debate. The federal education law maintained many of the testing mandates that were the hallmarks of its predecessor, the No Child Left Behind Act.

Under ESSA, states have to test students in reading and math in grades 3-8 and once in high school. They also have to break down the resulting test scores to track results for targeted populations, like English-language learners, various racial groups, and students from low-income families.

Critics of NCLB had argued that it led schools to place too much emphasis on tests and to use their results in punitive ways. Under ESSA, lawmakers aimed to address those concerns by giving states more flexibility in how scores are used and by allowing them to limit the amount of time schools spend testing. They also created a program to pilot new innovative assessments.

But an alliance that included civil rights groups, business organizations, and prominent congressional Democrats successfully pushed for Congress to reject more-dramatic changes to testing mandates when it passed ESSA.

Broad annual data are necessary to ensure schools are serving all students adequately, they insisted. And standardized tests offer consistency that other forms of feedback, like teacher observations and classroom assignments, may lack, they said.

I just think we have a moral responsibility to understand how all of our students are doing, where we are falling short…

Senator Patty Murray

If- as Murray says, the testing is about Education Equity and making sure we are getting education to each- then we are taking the students’ learning time to evaluate and thus remediate our performance in education implementation snd delivery.

Perhaps we should evaluate our efforts rather than test the students. We should find ways to let them explore, learn, and “show what they know.” Then we should find ways to evaluate and improve our performance.

A Plan for Standardized Test Scores During the Pandemic Has Gotten States’ Attention

There are three main elements of Ho’s proposal.

1. The first part is to report the percentage of students from this year’s state testing that have comparable previous test scores—indeed, he stressed the importance of this and not scores being the first issue that states focus on when reporting testing data. This would mean looking at which students took the tests two years ago, and seeing whether they took the tests for this academic year. Remember: Last year states canceled their tests en masse, so there aren’t test scores from that time.

So, for example, states would report the percentage of students who, two years ago, took the tests in the 3rd grade and also took the tests in the 5th grade this year. This would require state data systems to track individual students.

Ho says that this amounts to conducting an educational census that would help states sort students into two important groups: one for which the state has comparable test score data, and the other for which there isn’t test score data.

“It instantly divides your attention into two deserving groups,” he said, calling this piece of his idea the “match rate.”

2. The second part would focus on the students for whom there is comparable test score data from two school years ago.

Ho proposes that for those students, states find their previous “academic peers.” In other words, states would identify students from 2017 and 2019 who performed at similar levels on the exams. Then they would study how the 2017 group performed on 2019 tests, and how the 2019 group performed on 2021 tests. (This is why Ho’s plan relies on states that have longitudinal data systems dating and “stable” testing systems dating back to the 2016-17 school year.)

This method would help people determine the extent to which the pandemic has affected students’ academic progress, compared to similar students from before COVID-19. Ho calls this a “fair trend” approach.

3. The third part focuses on students who don’t take the tests this year and who the system has lost track of, or what Ho calls the “equity check.”

For those students, Ho also proposes looking at the scores from those students in 2019, and looking at their academic peers from 2017, and then looking at the test scores from that peer group in 2019.

Ho admitted that this third piece of his plan “requires the most guesswork,” but could still tell a meaningful, descriptive story. Yet he also said this “equity check” would probably paint a best-case picture of where these missing students stand. Why? Because it “assumes academic learning rates for those who went missing from 2019 to 2021 are the same as those in 2017 to 2019,” Ho wrote.

Andrew Ho, Edweek