Why Are We Still Standardized Testing During a Pandemic?4 min read

It was just announced that the federal government is not allowing states to cancel federally mandated standardized testing this year. This year where there is the worst pandemic in a hundred years. The year where millions of students have had to learn remotely or are learning in an entirely different setting and environment. Or the year that roughly 3 million students haven’t attended school at all.

Despite all that has happened in the last year the federal government is still requiring standardized testing.

There’s an addiction to standardized testing in this country.

Here’s why I have a problem with this:

Standardized testing in a pandemic is inequitable.

First, let’s talk about the inequity of it. You’re telling me that kids with less access to technology are being held to the same standard as kids with ample access to technology? Or that students who are not able to show up for many virtual meetings because they were raising their siblings while their parents had to go to work, are taking the same test as my kids who live in a district that had in-person learning this year and a teacher who is able to sit beside them and help them learn and grow? We’re still doing this testing this year? 

This shines a spotlight on the bigger issue of standardized testing even before the pandemic. We’re using the same tests to determine success from students of many different backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, and circumstances. It was never an equitable system, and that is being revealed much more right now.

There are more important things to cover right now.

Next, we’re in a pandemic! Is prepping students for these standardized tests, (which by the way, students do better on them when they prep specifically for them, which is why teachers often have to narrow their curriculum), is prepping them for these tests the most important thing right now? Will that really help prevent the dreaded “academic slide?” Shouldn’t we really be emphasizing re-socializing our children? Helping them acclimate to this new world that we’re in? Letting teachers design activities that actually inspire students and make them excited to show up for school?

This is what we should be doing right now. We should be giving students opportunities to collaborate, and solve real problems in their communities, and have fun at school, and build relationships, and focus on social-emotional health- not spending all of our time preparing for these tests.

Standardized testing should not be punitive.

And this all raises another question: What will we do with these test scores? Are we going to punish kids who don’t have laptops? Are we going to penalize teachers who had the monumental task of converting everything they do to a virtual environment with very little training and very little preparation and very little resources and expect them to have the same level of achievement as they would in years’ past? Are we going to shut down schools that underperform? Are we going to ignore the fact that high-stakes testing historically doesn’t lead to better student achievement? What’s the plan?

Here’s an alternative to standardized testing in a pandemic.

If it were up to me, next year, we will de-emphasize these standardized tests, and promote assessments that are actually formative and give educators and parents the information they need to help their students grow and succeed. I’m talking about surveys that look at student engagement, creativity, inspiration, social emotional health. Or assessments that look at academic achievement at more than one angle than what Pearson put on the SAT. Or portfolios that capture the authentic work students complete. Or maybe keeping some of these standardized tests, but not making them the be-all end-all.

But that’s next year. This year, let’s let educators meet our students where they’re at and give them what they need during a pandemic to survive it and thrive during it.  And I don’t think prepping them for federally mandated standardized tests is the best way to do that.

But I’m open to push-back, what do you think?

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Trevor Muir

I believe every student has the potential for greatness. And I believe every educator can be equipped to unlock that potential.