An Argument Against State Testing During a Pandemic

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Schools all over the state of Missouri continue to try to meet the needs of their community during the pandemic in terms of the choice they can provide parents with educational platforms available (in person, virtual, hybrid, combination). Of course, there is no perfect scenario and all schools have struggled to balance demands from the public and staff with what is best for students. School is not typical for anyone in our state right now and it seems whenever we start to find momentum, additional challenges pop up and slow us down. These challenges can include weather events, temporary quarantines from exposure, students going in and out of crisis and major economic stressors for families leading to a variety of other traumas for students. While learning is always at the forefront of what we do, we are working hard in our classrooms to support our students emotionally, counteract against some of the trauma experienced in the pandemic, rebuild social skills that have been shattered and fill learning gaps from being out of ‘physical school’. As administrators, we also have a duty to ensure our staff feel safe and are able to function with the varying demands being placed on them. To say state testing is the furthest thing from a priority right now would be an understatement.

Of course there is an argument to be made for the need of a standardized measure this year–a baseline to determine the starting place for our work post-pandemic. In December, the state also communicated that no measures of funding or accreditation will be tied to these scores. Proponents believe this communicates high expectations and that these assessments will guide both state and local leaders to allocate resources to address unfinished learning. Several state board members have even gone so far as to claim it’s educational malpractice to not get a standardized ‘score’ of how the schools are doing addressing the needs of their communities during this time of emergency.

This is exactly where the flaw in this argument lies–schools are doing all of that NOW, without the use of state standardized tests. We are keeping expectations high and using baseline and formative measures to ensure we are allocating our already stretched and limited resources to the students with the highest needs. What we don’t need, is to turn around and do it formally for an outside agency removed from the real work happening in schools. If the state needs guidance on what additional resources are needed to support losses related to the pandemic going into next year, administrators can provide that in the blink of an eye. We need additional staffing to keep class sizes low, we need additional interventionists to support learning gaps that formed from various lapses in instruction, we need additional counselors and school social workers to support our families’ and students’ social and emotional needs.

What we don’t need is to adjust already skewed pacing guides and cram fourth quarter content into third quarter to cover all material before testing. We don’t need to lose 3-4 hours a day of instructional time for 8 straight days to administer the tests. We don’t need to require our virtual parents to bring their student to in person school for several days to complete this test when they have legitimate reasons for keeping their student virtual. We don’t need to see the inequities on full display in the form of test scores as our most impoverished districts continue to suffer without real solutions. That is what we don’t need. If the state board is looking for real solutions and what is really going on in the schools, invite the local leaders to the table. We would be more than happy to shed some light on the work we are doing and the freedoms for you to allow us to keep doing it.

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