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

A North Carolina teacher says educators are equipped to assess student progress without putting their health at risk.

We need to bubble “none of the above” on this year’s high stakes standardized tests.

Folks wanting kids to return to school buildings just to take a standardized test the next few weeks, even though many of those kids have not been in a classroom since March, act like there are no assessments to measure student learning without those standardized tests.

One of the skills teachers like me had to demonstrate to receive a teaching license is to design and analyze an assessment and use the results to guide student learning.

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We don’t need to force students back in rooms exceeding the current indoor gathering guidance to take a test created by an outside entity to tell you how students are doing.

You could ask their teachers.  Assessing students and adjusting instruction accordingly is our area of expertise.

We also don’t need to weigh those tests 20% of a student’s course grade.  We can follow Georgia’s lead and change the standardized test score weight to .01% of a student’s course grade. 

An impossible choice

In this week’s meeting, State Board of Education member Jill Camnitz said the 20% weight should remain “to motivate our students to take the test and to take it seriously.”

Should we really be using the 20% grade weight to threaten families to choose between their current pandemic safety plan and their child’s GPA?

Ms. Camnitz obviously hasn’t met students like mine who just yesterday asked for another microeconomics unit checkpoint soon to have another chance to show what they know.  They’re 80% of the way there but are confident they’ll be 100% there with a bit more time to wrap their heads around market graphs. 

That assignment will only amount to about 2% of their final course grade.  But I’ll gladly make another assessment activity so they can prove to themselves – not to me, not to the state or people like Ms. Camnitz – that they can conquer microeconomics and feel proud of how far they’ve come in three weeks.  

Heavily weighted standardized tests do not motivate students to learn – they are an unnecessary threat to force students to learn.  Is that what is best for students in this moment? 

But how will we know they learned without a standardized test? 

When is the last time you were told to fill out a company-wide bubble sheet to prove you were doing your job?  Would you be more motivated and productive if you received one, even if you received regular progress feedback from your immediate supervisor? Should your performance in those few hours be tied to 20% of your annual paycheck?    

How do we know if the NCGA is doing its job if there’s no test? 

We have performance expectations in our state Constitution.  In 1997, our state was assessed by the NC Supreme Court in the Leandro case where families sued the state for failing to provide equal education opportunities for all students.  The Supreme Court found that the state had failed to uphold its constitutional mandate to provide a “sound basic education.”

Our state failed that assessment again in a 2004 follow-up case, ultimately leading to last year’s court-ordered report. That report, which was none too kind, was the state’s most recent report card for NC lawmakers on fulfilling the Leandro mandate.  It showed the NC General Assembly continues to fail our students. 

As with any decent report card, it offers recommendations to remediate deficiencies.  But instead of humbling themselves and addressing the issues, Republican leaders in the General Assembly disparage the bad report card

In fact our General Assembly will delay meeting performance expectations for over 20 years then want to argue for an A+.  It turns out they are ok with skipping tests and diminishing grades after all!

Let’s be honest and call it for what it is: Folks insisting on standardized testing cite variations of “we need to know how little students know” as the motivating factor for shoving kids back into a classroom during a global pandemic. 

Listen carefully. They want to see how much kids don’t know.  This is key to understanding the current push to issue these tests and the overall motivation in nurturing a standardized testing culture. It fosters the false narrative that public schools aren’t good enough and snipes at students along the way. 

It’s not a coincidence that schools of “choice” such as private schools are exempt from these tests.  The powers pushing to privatize education aren’t interested in gathering data that could knock those schools off their undeserved pedestals.

[Correction: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated the testing requirements for charter schools.]

If you’re more interested in fostering a false narrative that students aren’t learning, hand them a standardized test that more accurately measures socioeconomic status rather than students’ skills and content knowledge.  Then do nothing about the growing poverty problem.

If you want to add to the trauma students are experiencing during a global pandemic, force kids like my 3rd-grade son into a congregant setting (some for the first time since March) for a “Beginning of Year” assessment halfway through the school year.  Take no interest in the effects of that environment on a student’s ability to show knowledge in that few-hour window on a multiple-choice test.  

If we are not employing trauma informed strategies to support students during a pandemic, then by all means State Board of Education, Department of Public Instruction and General Assembly, stay the course on the current testing policies.

If you want to know what students are learning, ask a teacher.  

We love talking about how our students have grown academically and personally, even during this challenging time.  We’ll even tell you about the ones who are struggling and our plans to get them where they need to be.  

Ask how you can help – we have plenty of answers ready for you to bubble into legislation.