Sending Teachers Back to Classrooms for Tests Is Absolute Madness

Some parents and educators are fired up over a plan to return NC students to schools for in-person testing. (Image via Shutterstock)

By Kim Mackey

January 22, 2021

A North Carolina teacher on the misguided mandate for in-person standardized testing.

Last week I returned to the classroom with students, the first time since March for all of us, to administer standardized tests.  

Coronavirus has never been more dangerous in North Carolina. And I’m handing out laptops to 10 kids in a classroom. 

If only we were as determined to hold the rest of society as accountable as we held students, educators and schools.

As a test administrator I am held accountable for the testing code of ethics with threats of “civil, criminal, licensure consequences” if I fail. Yet our national and state leaders in NC don’t make better choices given the ethical dilemma of requiring in-person standardized testing during a pandemic.

Read More: A Meaningful Milestone: Teachers in at Least One NC County Get Vaccinated

These tests required by federal law were deemed “essential” by our state leaders while our neighbors in Georgia pushed back by minimizing the grade impact on students to the lowest legal weight.

I received a survey from my son’s school inquiring if I would be sending him to school at the end of February to take his 3rd-grade “Read to Achieve” test.  No, I will not.  

I hope things are better near the end of the school year when the next opportunity arises for him to take the test.  It’s a key requirement for him to be promoted from third grade.  

But if conditions remain challenging, I hope reason will prevail. Give us testing waives, or acknowledge that there are other ways to determine if kids are ready for the next grade. I bet their teachers know.

Our society is sick both literally and figuratively.  Our resolve has been tested.  We have eclipsed 400,000 American deaths and 24 million documented infections in our country. 

Survivors are living with long-term consequences and the World Health Organization notes “COVID-19 can result in prolonged illness and persistent symptoms, even in young adults and persons with no underlying medical conditions who were not hospitalized.”  

Americans compose 4% of the world’s population but 25% of COVID-19 cases worldwide and over 19% of deaths – both proportions have increased since my last update one month ago.

Despite these broader failures, folks prioritize testing children with bubble sheets as our testing and tracing capabilities for COVID-19 lag behind. 

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Accountability is important, but let’s be consistent. Don’t expect kids to demonstrate more accountability than our leaders and other adults in their communities.

All former US Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos had to do before signing her resignation letter this month was fill out a waiver with the same language lifting the standardized test requirement issued last spring.  

She’ll resign in an attempt to save her own reputation, but refuses to sign a waiver to protect staff and students where in-person interaction goes against broader public health guidelines.  

After all, holding students accountable for learning during a deadly pandemic is much more important than holding a president accountable for inciting an attempted coup, right Betsy?

Folks are concerned with learning loss.  But since when did we accept such a narrow vision of capacity to learn as being defined only by fixed content within a fixed time period. So if it doesn’t happen according to our arbitrary schedules, it never happens at all? 

If folks want to obsess over loss and data, it would be more productive to consult their community’s COVID-19 dashboard.  Devoting attention and resources to the root of our challenges addressing the pandemic would be more productive than using standardized testing to vilify society’s Band-aid – public schools.

In hunting for “learning loss” there is little room nor desire to acknowledge that there are success stories.  Our kids are growing in new but no less valuable ways.  

Spare our kids the condemnation of not being good enough in their academic performance because a bubble sheet says so, even when they outperform 75% of their peers.  They’re showing more tenacity and responsibility than many adults.

Guidance offered to schools by the ABC Science Collaborative emphasizes 99% adherence to masking.   We not only allow for staff and students enter into indoor gatherings prohibited in other settings – we expect perfection to ensure protection.

Even students and teachers who have not yet returned to in-person instruction will have spent more time together last week meeting for standardized tests than the two days our NC General Assembly has met since the school year began.  

When they return to session next week, let’s hope members of the General Assembly will follow the ABC Science Collaborative’s advice to comply with masking 99% of the time.

It would be most refreshing if instead of engaging in denial and duplicity to avoid their duty to provide a “sound basic education” to North Carolina’s children, they modeled “the 3 Ws” for their constituents. That way, we could all have a chance to safely return to more ideal learning conditions in North Carolina’s classrooms this year. 

Our infection numbers escalate while Dr. Mandy Cohen and Governor Roy Cooper wag their fingers week in and week out. Where’s the accountability for folks who won’t listen?

Nobody likes to be told what to do, but one way to avoid that is to do what must be done without having to be told.  

It’s time our community demonstrated mastery of mitigation protocols before expecting students to demonstrate academic mastery on another round of standardized tests later this school year.


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