In the next few weeks, nearly all school districts in the U.S. will offer at least some in-person instruction. The worst of the pandemic school closures are likely behind us, but the real work of recovery has only just begun.
By all accounts- both scientific and anecdotal—students have lost a great deal of learning over the past year. An October Stanford University study found school closures and virtual schooling contributed to students losing 183 learning days of reading and 232 days of math. Absent significant additional support, exceptional teaching and targeted interventions, this loss could impact students for their entire lives.
Statewide assessments are a critical tool to avoiding this outcome. Not only can assessments help measure the unique impact of the pandemic on individual students, but they can also identify where and how we should be focusing our resources. That’s why the Biden Administration has decided to maintain the requirement for states to administer standardized tests this year. The decision means states, districts and teachers will have important data as they begin planning for next school year.
Standardized Tests Allow Us To Target Student Support
Some educators, union leaders and superintendents have raised concerns about placing additional burdens on schools and students this year. Even before the pandemic, many educators had grown cynical of the virtues of “high stakes” testing. I appreciate and even agree with some of the critiques of how standardized tests have been used in the past. I was teaching at the height of the No Child Left Behind Act, a law that made standardized testing a tool for penalizing struggling schools rather than supporting learning.
Given the stress students and teachers have experienced during remote learning and the limited time our students will have in classrooms this year, it’s understandable that some teachers and parents are skeptical of how these tests might be used. Fortunately, the new administration isn’t proposing to use assessments for accountability purposes, but rather to target support effectively. States must take advantage of this flexibility and make sure they are getting help to those students who most need it.
While not perfect, state standardized tests give us something critically important—comparable data based on state learning standards—that allow us to make informed decisions about student, school and district level needs. The fact is that a majority of teachers support gathering this kind of data for exactly this purpose. In a recent nationally representative survey of educators conducted by the organization I lead, 68% said standardized assessments should be used to identify which students and student groups are falling behind and need more support.
Using Data To Drive Equity
Now that the federal government is sending approximately $200 billion to states and school districts—an unprecedented amount of money that represents nearly four times the annual expenditures to support K-12 schooling by the federal government—we must make data-informed decisions to target our dollars effectively and make the most of this unprecedented, essential investment in our schools and students. Without assessment data, a major risk is that states and districts will distribute these dollars across all schools and not tailor them to support the students most impacted.
By all accounts, the pandemic deepened inequities between affluent and economically disadvantaged students. The White House should stand firm in its decision to keep the tests. In doing so, the country has an opportunity to use this data to drive toward greater equity in our recovery and ensure these once-in-a-lifetime resources go to the children who need them the most. That’s an outcome worth fighting for.