April 23, 2021

Alan Singer: Standardized Testing during a Pandemic is Ridiculous

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Alan Singer blogs regularly at the Daily Kos, where this time he offers some observations about why the 2021 Big Standardized Test is a waste of time and effort. Reposted with permission.

There is a children’s picture book You Look Ridiculous (Bernard Waber, 1966) that I really like because of the lesson that it teaches. Some things are just ridiculous and shouldn’t be done. I put the federal mandate that states renew testing of children in English and Math in grades 3-8 and science in grades four and eight in that category. Administering these tests in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic while education has been largely disrupted is a waste of time and money, causes unnecessary stress, is educationally counter-productive, and is just plan ridiculous. We already know kids are behind. The investment should be in helping them catch up.

High-stakes standardized tests are mandated by the federal government, supposedly to monitor student progress. Last year states did not have to test students because of the COVID-19 pandemic. This year New York State’s request for a test waiver was inexplicably rejected by the federal Department of Education.

In the past standardized tests were used to evaluate schools, teachers and students and districts could be penalized if large numbers of families had their children opt-out or refuse to take the tests. This year there will be no consequences for any one, which means the New York State Department of Education already knows the tests have no reliability or purpose other than to satisfy the federal legal mandate.

Because of the disruptions in education, the grades 3-8 English Language Arts and mathematics tests will be shortened from two days to one. The English test will be administered in the next couple of days and the Math test between May 3 and May 14. No date has been set for the fourth and eighth-grade science tests. Regents exams will be offered for high school students at the end of June in biology, earth science, algebra and English Language Arts, but will not be required for class credit or graduation.

There will be no online testing. Remote learning students can choose to drop into their schools to be tested or just stay home. In-person students have the option of refusing to take the tests with a signed parent’s letter. A sample opt-out letter is linked.

The New York State Teachers Union is urging parents to have their children opt out of the tests and encourages members to exercise their rights as citizens and professionals to speak their mind about high-stakes tests in general and to consider refusing the tests for their own children.

According to NYSUT President Andy Pallotta “In a year that has been anything but standard, mandating that students take standardized tests just doesn’t make sense. As the educators in the classroom, we have always known that standardized tests are not the best way to measure a child’s development, and they are especially unreliable right now. We need to ensure that our students who have been hit hardest during the pandemic receive the support they need. Sizing up students with inequitable and stressful exams is not the solution.”

Jeanette Deutermann of Long Island Opt Out and NYS Allies for Public Education tells parents, “They have also made it clear that the results will have no meaning for anyone, so why you would have your child sit for an assessment during those conditions? I think this has sort of raised the alarm that if we cannot suspend these standardized tests in a year like this, then what are we doing and what is this test truly for?”

Jennifer Morrison, superintendent of the New Hyde Park-Garden City Park school district, said that while the district would comply with the state’s mandate to conduct testing, “It seems to not be fruitful with this one [English] test, and it doesn’t seem like we’ll get something from it. It’s only about 24 questions. We are monitoring progress locally and this is a one-shot test, so it seems like an exercise in compliance.”

The New York State and federal Departments of Education need to learn from our kindergarten children. No-stakes standardized tests in the midst of a global pandemic are ridiculous.

Follow Alan Singer on twitter at https://twitter.com/AlanJSinger1.

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