Robin Jacobowitz: A New Way Forward for Our Schools
Writing for the Benjamin Center, Robin Jacobowitz points out that there are better ways forward than continuing the test-and-punish regime of the past decades. She starts with the disappointment of waiver refusals from the Department of Education.
The directive to administer the tests is disappointing for many reasons. To name a few, precious instructional time will be lost as students take the exams; funding will be wasted on the administration of these tests, especially given that it is unclear how many students will even take them. (For example, in NYC, students must opt in to take the tests.) Above all, teachers can well identify learning gaps in their classrooms without the aid of these “standardized” tests, and results are regularly available too late to make the credible case that they inform instruction.
But there is a far more important concern. This directive is indicative of the federal government’s willingness to perpetuate into the future a test-driven accountability approach to education that has failed for decades in its goal to elevate student outcomes. The obvious question: why would we continue a flawed system that has not produced expected and desired results?
Jacobowitz looks at the history that brought us here, which brings us back to that same question.
What is it going to take for us to acknowledge that this approach isn’t working? Will it take another decade of mediocre results? We fret about the education lost in this year of the pandemic, and yet a larger contributor to that loss has gone on far longer; sanctioned, operationalized, and paid-for (expensively, by taxpayers). And it is right under our noses.
A reimagined approach would place students—not the tests—at the center. It would balance the content of instruction and mechanisms for delivery with time and attention to other important outcomes, like engagement and mental health, that are difficult to quantify. It would require holistic thinking that incorporates the priorities and goals that drew us to standards and testing years ago—core proficiencies are critical, accountability is important, and we do need a way to ensure that all children get a quality education, regardless of their zip code. But also, with the gift of hindsight, it would reflect an understanding of how much we sacrificed to achieve mediocre results.