Gadfly on the Wall: The Year Without Standardized Testing
Last year was the first in nearly two decades that the US did not give standardized tests to virtually every student in public school.
Think about that.
Since 2001 almost every child took the tests unless their parents explicitly demanded they be opted out.
For 19 years almost every child in grades 3-8 and once in high school took standardized assessments.
No multiple guess fill-in the bubble questions.
No sorting students into classes based on the results.
No evaluating teachers and schools based on the poverty, race and ethnicities of the children they serve.
And all it took to make us stop was a global pandemic.
What are the results of that discontinuity?
We may never really know.
There are so many variables at play.
The Covid-19 pandemic closed school rooms across the nation for various lengths of time. Some are still closed. Some are beginning to close again.
Many classes were conducted remotely through conferencing software like Zoom and file sharing programs like Google Classroom. Others were conducted through a hybrid model combining in-person instruction and cyber instruction. While still others met in-person with numerous mitigation efforts like masks, social distancing and air purifiers.
Many students were absent, struggled to learn and experienced countless traumas due to the isolation, sickness and deaths.
About 561,000 people are dead in the United States because of COVID-19.
That’s more than Americans who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor (2,403), the 9/11 terrorists attacks (3,000), WWI (116,000) or WWII (405,000).
Only the Civil War (600,000 – 850,000) has a larger death toll. For now.
As of April 1, nearly 3.47 million children have tested positive for COVID-19, most with mild symptoms, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. A few hundred have died, mostly children of color. Many more kids probably contracted the virus but were asymptomatic spreaders of the disease to adults.
As a result, between 37,000 and 43,000 children in the United States have lost at least one parent to COVID-19, according to USC research.
How do you sort through all these tragedies and traumas and say THIS was caused by a lack of standardized testing?
You probably can’t.
But you can ask questions.
For example, how many teachers really missed the data the standardized tests would have shown?
How many students and parents agonized over what last year’s test scores would have been?
How many government agencies really wanted to provide resources to schools but couldn’t figure out where they should go because they didn’t have test scores to guide them?
I’m not sure exactly how we could find answers.
We could survey teachers and staff about it.
We could survey parents and students.
We could even subpoena Congresspeople and ask them under oath if a lack of test scores determined their legislative priorities.
But we’re not really doing any of that.
It’s a prime opportunity to find out something valuable about standardized tests – mainly if people really think they’re valuable.
But we’re not going to stop and do it.
Instead we’re rushing back onto the testing treadmill this year while the Coronavirus pandemic still rages.
Is that logical behavior?
We already have almost 20 years of data showing that annual testing did not improve student learning nationally. US kids were no better off from 2001-2019 having yearly tests than students in Scandinavia who were tested much less frequently. In fact, the countries with the highest academic achievement give far fewer assessments.
The effectiveness and fairness of standardized testing have come into question since before George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind legislation enshrined them into law.
They were designed by eugenicists to justify racism and prejudice. Their partiality for wealthier whiter students and discrimination against poorer browner students has been demonstrated time and again.
But in 2001 we created an industry. Huge corporations write the tests, grade the tests and provide the remediation for the tests. Billions of dollars in taxes are funneled into this captive market which creates monetary incentives for our lawmakers to keep the system going.
Yes, some civil rights organizations have waffled back and forth over this as big donors who value the tests make or withhold contributions. Meanwhile, many other more grassroots civil rights organizations such as Journey for Justice Alliance (JJA), a group made up of 38 organizations of Black and Brown parents and students in 23 states, have continuously called for the abolition of high stakes testing.
It should be no surprise then that President Joe Biden – though as a candidate he promised to stop standardized testing if he were elected – did an immediate about face this year and insisted we reinstate the assessments.
A scientific mind would be empirical about this. It would examine the results as much as possible and determine whether moving forward made any sense.
This is especially true as the pandemic health crisis continues to make the act of giving the tests difficult at best and dangerous at worst.
There is no way a logical mind can look at the situation and not come to the conclusion that the status quo on testing is a triumph of capitalism over science and reason.
In a month or so, the year without testing will be just that – a single year.
To paraphrase Winston Churchill:
We shall go on to the end. We shall test during Covid, we shall test in the classes and on-line, we shall test with growing confidence and growing strength wearing masks, we shall defend our industry, whatever the cost may be. We shall test in the homes, we shall fill in bubbles on sanitized desks, we shall test in the fields and in the streets, we shall test in the hospitals; we shall never surrender!
May 10, 2021