Why Are NC Schools Pushing Standardized Testing in the Midst of a Pandemic?

Former Superintendent Mark Johnson was accused of misusing his office to campaign for lieutenant governor. (Image via Johnson's page).

By Kim Mackey

August 5, 2020

A NC teacher and parent says, with coronavirus shutting down dozens of school districts, it’s the wrong time to restart high-stakes standardized testing.

Testing and tracing must be front and center when considering resumption of in-person teaching and learning.

Unfortunately, Superintendent Mark Johnson’s NC Department of Instruction has missed the mark. 

Instead of prioritizing rapid COVID-19 test results and contact tracing as tools to help control the spread of a novel virus preventing in-person instruction, today DPI is presenting a recommendation to the State Board of Education for high-stakes testing of the wrong kind.

RELATED: Experts Say Schools Need Billions to Reopen, But Federal Lawmakers At Odds on Coronavirus Relief.

Their recommendation would “provide the Beginning of Grade 3 Test (Fall 2020)” and other End of Course and End of Grade tests “either when students return to the school for face-to-face instruction, or at the public school unit’s discretion, administer the tests to students at a school-sanctioned site that meets the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services guidelines for COVID-19.”

As the mom of a third grader, I already dreaded the fact that my son would begin his new school year with a high-stakes standardized test. But during a pandemic, you may not have my first born because of misplaced testing priorities.

Why Are NC Schools Pushing Standardized Testing in the Midst of a Pandemic?
Vice President Mike Pence, right, and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos speak with students July 29 in a fourth grade classroom at Thales Academy, a private school in Apex that reopened July 29. A NC teacher and parent wants to know why federal and state officials appear to be pushing resumption of standardized testing in the midst of a pandemic. (AP Photo/Gerry Broome)

How did we get here?

This past March in light of COVID-19’s impact on schools, the NC State Board of Education unanimously supported a one-year federal student testing waiver from the US Department of Education.

The federal government exempted all fifty states who applied for waivers from the standardized testing requirements mandated by its Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).

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In a press release announcing the availability of waivers, US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos justified the need for exemptions from “high-stakes standardized testing during the COVID-19 national emergency” by saying: “Students need to be focused on staying healthy and continuing to learn. Teachers need to be able to focus on remote learning and other adaptations. We’re going to continue to provide every flexibility possible to help make that as simple as possible.”

At the time DeVos announced the testing waiver, there were 18,747 cases in the United States. The total diagnosed has risen to nearly 4.7 million Americans, including 49,716 new cases on Aug. 4.

One would assume that the same logic used to justify exemptions from high-stakes standardized testing at the end of the 2019-20 school year would carry over into the 2020-21 school year.

Are our students safer today than they were then?

Last month, Georgia’s Department of Education was the first state to submit a testing waiver request to the US Department of Education for the upcoming school year.

“We believe our students’ and teachers’ focus belongs on making it through this challenge together and addressing learning loss, not on the pressure of a high-stakes standardized test,” Georgia State School Superintendent Richard Woods said then. “It is common sense that this is not the time to be concerned about the test.”

Despite DeVos’ commitment in March to “provide every flexibility possible,” Georgia has not yet reported any response from the US Department of Education for the waiver it submitted.

With more than 1 million students across over sixty districts in North Carolina beginning the school year without in-person instruction, why is DPI pushing for “action on first reading” promoting use of high-stakes standardized tests instead of advocating for another testing waiver?

Standardized tests do not exist for the benefit of students, but for the benefit of macro-level number crunching to compare subgroups, teachers, and schools.

These tests reliably measure socioeconomic status more than they contribute to student academic growth.

As teachers, we continually create and implement our own formative and summative assessments to guide instruction, remediate students, and ensure achievement.  Implementing high-stakes standardized testing is a redundancy that takes time and resources away from more authentic learning experiences.

In a time of fiscal constraints and concerns over “COVID slide,” it is much cheaper to trust teachers as professionals to use their time teaching and supporting student needs during this challenging time.

Any testing concerns should be focused on nasal swab, reagents, and contract tracing to help contain the virus to levels low enough to resume in-person instruction.

That would be a more appropriate “action on first reading.”


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