More Testing Is the Worst Possible Way to Reopen Schools

Did students fall behind this spring when schools pivoted to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic? If so, how much? And do we need an extra bout of testing in the fall to recoup our educational losses?

We know that some amount of education was lost this spring, but nobody knows exactly how much. Nevertheless, there are a few small reasons for hope.

Many folks are worried about the COVID-19 slide. Arne Duncan, the former Secretary of Education in the Obama Administration, is worried. Jeb Bush is worried. The Wall Street Journal is worried. Researchers at Northwest Evaluation Association, one of the nation’s major test manufacturing companies, put together a “report” about the slide in which they tried to quantify exactly how much education students have lost. 

We know that some amount of education was lost this spring, but nobody knows exactly how much. Nevertheless, there are a few small reasons for hope.

For one thing, schools lost less time than it appears. Spring is testing season, and had schools been in session, many would have spent weeks preparing for the state’s Big Standardized (BS) Test, and then taking it.

Because of the wide footprint of the BS Test, most actual teaching, for all intents and purposes, is now done in April or even March. The cancellation of testing season is a financial loss to testing companies, but it’s important to remember that some of the school time lost would never have been spent on instruction and learning in the first place.

Furthermore, the COVID-19 slide described by the NWEA and taken up by so many others is really a test score slide. Our discussion of education is hampered by the widespread assumption that a score on a narrowly aimed, poorly designed standardized test is a full measure of student achievement. It isn’t.


Standardized test scores drop more than actual educational achievement because taking a standardized multiple choice is its own special skill set that’s separate from actual education. Unlike a good education, it’s unrelated to much of the real world. Without schools to keep their test-taking skills honed, students will lose ground on the test. But we really don’t have a clue what the corresponding learning loss will be.

Teachers, in particular, are painfully aware that the abrupt cut-off of the year meant that units and courses could not be wrapped up with the kinds of culminating activities that help fasten learning in place. For fans of standardized tests, such as Bush and Duncan, the solution is to start the school year with standardized testing.

The most radical version of this proposal has students coming back and testing to see whether or not they should actually move on to the next grade. This seems like the worst possible way to welcome back students after a long, and in many cases very stressful, pandemic pause.

What neither of these proposals would do is help the new year get off to a decent start. Students will return, bruised and uncertain, to a situation fraught with new rules, confusion, and probably fear. 

Bush has suggested moving that spring assessment to the fall. Then, on the basis of results, parents would be given “dedicated funds” to seek out supplemental tutoring or other help for their kids. In other words, education vouchers. 

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos has also used COVID-19 relief money to float her preferred methods of school funding, including vouchers and the diversion of public tax dollars to private edu-businesses. And of course, Bush’s idea would help testing companies recoup some of their losses. Never let a crisis go to waste, as they say. 

What neither of these proposals would do is help the new year get off to a decent start. Students will return, bruised and uncertain, to a situation fraught with new rules, confusion, and probably fear. 

“Welcome back. Sit down and take this standardized test,” will not be the way to build trust and serve the needs of the whole child. Nor will it provide useful information, particularly for younger students who will find the mere act of navigating the test to be daunting.

Even if the BS Tests, which cover only math and reading, were a good measure of those skills, and even if they provided a detailed picture of student skills—remember, teachers cannot even see the questions that students try to answer on the test—the picture would still be hugely incomplete. 

The good news, or at least the closest thing to it, is that teachers know what to do.

They use a wide range of formal and informal assessments to develop a complete picture of where each student stands, so that they can meet her at that spot. This aspect—the figuring out who their students are and what they know—may be the only normal part of school this fall.

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Peter Greene | Radio Free (2021-09-23T20:06:10+00:00) » More Testing Is the Worst Possible Way to Reopen Schools. Retrieved from https://www.radiofree.org/2020/07/03/more-testing-is-the-worst-possible-way-to-reopen-schools/.
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» More Testing Is the Worst Possible Way to Reopen Schools | Peter Greene | Radio Free | https://www.radiofree.org/2020/07/03/more-testing-is-the-worst-possible-way-to-reopen-schools/ | 2021-09-23T20:06:10+00:00
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