Thoughts on Standardized Testing After the Storm Has Passed

Copyright © 2020 by Douglas G. Wren, Ed.D.

Doug Wren has worked in public education for nearly three decades—half of that time as a classroom teacher. He recently retired from Virginia Beach City Public Schools after serving for 12 years as Educational Measurement & Assessment Specialist. Before coming to Virginia Beach, Doug was Director of Research & Evaluation for the DeKalb County School District in Georgia. Please go to https://wrenedconsult.com for more information about Doug.

We must always remember—in times good or bad—that this too shall pass. The 1918 flu pandemic resulted in more than three times the number of deaths than the total killed in World War I, which ended the same year. Worst case scenarios for the current pandemic indicate that the mortality rate of COVID-19 will not come anywhere near the rate of last century’s pandemic.

One lesson learned from the 1918 pandemic was that schools should be closed as soon as possible. As of this writing, 46 states have shut down their schools. Additionally, President Trump announced on March 20 the suspension of standardized test requirements this year. “A lot of students will be happy,” said POTUS, “some, probably not.”

Whether you are happy or unhappy about the absence of annual high-stakes testing, this interruption has allowed us time to rethink tests and how we use test results. Lately I’ve given thought to how we can reintroduce state-mandated testing in schools and use the results to better effect.

Assuming schools will reopen at some point for the 2020-21 year, stakeholders such as parents, teachers, and administrators will want to know each student’s academic standing after months of at-home, online learning. Why not administer the suspended state-mandated tests to students to determine where they are as soon as they return to the classroom?

If this happens, let’s do it without the hoopla, fanfare, and stress that comes with conventional end-of-year tests whose results are used primarily for summative purposes. Just tell students that the test results will show their teachers what they need to teach during the year ahead. Students must understand that the results of the beginning-of-year test administrations are going to be used to help them catch up. The incentive for students to do well is knowing that they won’t have to learn or relearn the objectives they’ve already mastered.

Besides alleviating many students’ anxiety about taking a high-stakes test, teachers and administrators—already coming back from what was probably the most challenging time of their careers—will have less test-related stress. Once they see the test results, these educators will be able to identify and plan formatively for the work that lies ahead.

For this plan to work more effectively, when feasible, teachers should stay with their current students through the 2020-21 year. This was proposed in an earlier post on this site by Chris Jacobs. Most teachers knew their students’ strengths and areas in need of improvement at the time their schools were closed; this knowledge will enable teachers to pick up where they left off. Recent research has indicated that looping, or the practice of a teacher remaining with the same group of students for more than one year, can improve academic achievement, especially for minorities and elementary students.

While some teachers might be dismayed by moving to the next grade level, the benefits for students can’t be overlooked. By and large, teachers are a hardy bunch who fully understand the meaning of flexibility. Most will adjust to the succeeding grade’s curriculum and learn to scaffold instruction over a two-year period. Elementary and middle schools will find it easier than high schools to implement looping.

A concern that will invariably arise is what will happen to teachers currently at the highest grade in their schools. Moving an eighth-grade teacher back to sixth grade will require fewer adjustments than moving a fifth-grade teacher back to kindergarten. When possible, fifth-grade teachers should be offered the opportunity to teach sixth grade at a middle school where most of their students will attend.

No doubt there will be other issues with looping on a large scale; however, that is not the focus of this post. My reason for writing is to promote the idea of using standardized test results formatively instead of summatively. Soon enough, educators will be looking for sensible solutions like this to catch students up after this storm has passed.

References

Hill, A. J., & Jones, D. B. (2018). A teacher who knows me: The academic benefits of repeat student-teacher matches. Economics of Education Review, 64, 1-12. Retrieved from https://aefpweb.org/sites/default/files/webform/42/HillJones_ATeacherWhoKnowsMe_March2017.pdf 

Jacobs, C. (2020, March 20). Envisioning learning and blended online school scenarios for the next 18 months and beyond [Blog post]. Retrieved from https://edjacentlyspeaking.edjacent.org/2020/03/envisioning-learning-and-blended-online.html 

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