Stan Karp: Activists Mobilize for Waivers and Opt Outs as Biden Mandates Tests
Stan Karp is an editor at Rethinking Schools who has written a thoughtful and thorough summation of the first big failure of the Biden administration on education policy, and the ongoing reactions to it. Things had started out well, with a Biden-Sanders unity task force making a strong declaration against high-stakes testing. But beltway Dems still supported testing, and as we all well know, Cardona’s office declared that testing would go on. Literal hundreds of experts spoke up against the move.
But Cardona doubled down, telling the Council of Chief State School Officers, “This is not the year for a referendum on assessments.” This intransigence not only squandered some of the goodwill that greeted the appointment of an educator to replace DeVos, but also has generated increasingly dubious responses that undermine one of the new secretary’s primary tasks: building trust with school communities in the middle of the worst public health crisis in modern history.
Cardona has also repeated baseless claims that the tests are needed to direct aid to where it’s most urgently needed. “Let me tell you very clearly that when we’re pushing out $130 billion, that state level data . . . is going to ensure that we’re providing the funds to those students that have been impacted the most by the pandemic.”
This is both misleading and irrelevant to the issue of testing waivers. Federal education aid, including the nearly $130 billion in COVID-19 relief funds for school districts in the American Rescue Plan (ARP), is distributed on the basis of federal formulas about the number of low income children, not test scores. Canceling standardized tests this spring would have no impact on the distribution of Title I funds or on ARP allocations.
The oft-repeated fiction that “we need to test so we can target resources” is also contradicted by the long history of school funding cases that invariably use test scores to document the existence of educational inequality. There have been such cases in 48 of the 50 states. Yet two-thirds of states still maintain school funding systems that fail to deliver greater resources to schools with greater need. The massive increase in standardized testing in recent decades has done little to change these structural inequities.