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Testing won’t show student experience

As news of postponed and canceled events, school districts forced to move to remote learning and a steady increase in COVID-19 cases continued to pour in, the National Center for Education Statistics made a decision. National reading and math tests will be postponed until 2022.

Though more than a few students and teachers may jump for joy at the news, it does create a problem. First, if the federally mandated national tests are not safe to conduct this spring, why should states take the risk of conducting their own annual tests? And second, how do we hold schools and teachers accountable for performance after the possibility of two years of missing data?

Ohio Department of Education spokesperson Mandy Minick is right that the move is “entirely understandable” given the circumstances.

But now what? Are these the years in which we find out whether all that state and federally mandated testing was worth the fuss?

No. The circumstances in which teachers are trying to do their jobs this year and half of last have provided challenges that would make any results an anomaly, even if the tests were held. They would not be an accurate reflection of how well the teachers are doing their jobs or the schools are teaching their students. They would not provide useful data. They merely would provide an interesting picture of students’ performance during a crisis.

Chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, Rep. Bobby Scott, D-Va., calls it a “moral imperative” for students to be tested at the state level, if federal tests are not conducted.

“In order for our nation to recover and rebuild from the pandemic, we must first understand the magnitude of learning loss that has impacted students across the country,” wrote Scott and Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who is the top Democrat on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. “That cannot happen without assessment data.”

It seems fair to assume the learning loss of at least a year — maybe more — will be dramatic, in terms of what can be gleaned from a standardized test. Common sense dictates testing, if it continues to be deemed necessary, should resume once classroom learning can return to prepandemic norms. The numbers, if there are any, from 2020 and 2021 should be accompanied by an asterisk and left out of the trends.

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