Should states skip testing this spring?

During spring 2020, the U.S. Department of Education under Education Secretary Betsy DeVos gave states permission to cancel their statewide tests given the extraordinary circumstances of the coronavirus, and all 50 states did so. Before her resignation, DeVos had informed states they shouldn’t count on getting the same waivers, but with Miguel Cardona expected to be confirmed by the Senate as the new education secretary, testing decisions will likely fall to him and the Biden administration.

Should testing—for a second year—be skipped? According to The Washington Post‘s editorial board, “that would be a mistake.”

How can schools create plans to make up for covid-related learning losses if those losses haven’t been measured? Wouldn’t knowing which students have been most adversely affected be helpful in directing resources for mitigation efforts? Don’t parents have a right to know whether their sons and daughters are achieving?

The good news is Mr. Cardona has recently stated he “want[s] to provide some opportunity for [students] to tell us what they learned or what gaps exist.” While “assessments alone are not the answer to children’s learning challenges,” the Post‘s editorial board continues, “they provide a crucial tool by shining a spotlight on problems.”

Canceling state testing for a second year would not only prevent us from measuring student progress (or a lack thereof) but would also make it “extremely difficult to determine how effective individual schools were during this challenging, historic period in American education” and “further delay” “holding schools accountable again,” according to a recent report by the Fordham Institute.

We show that growth measures spanning a single year with a gap in data can be estimated and are highly correlated with those estimated based on the full data. This implies that if testing is cancelled for only one year due to Covid (i.e., spring 2020), we have the potential to credibly estimate growth over the two-year period for districts and schools alike, spanning the gap year with testing data from spring 2019 and spring 2021.

[I]f testing in spring 2021 is also cancelled, our assessment is that it will not be possible to construct useful school-level growth measures spanning the ensuing multiyear gap period, although reasonably accurate district-level growth estimates could still be estimated. In order to estimate school-level growth, testing this year is necessary.

“Without data from summative assessments this year, we will lose valuable insight into how learning has been affected and which students and schools have been hit hardest,” the Fordham Institute’s report continues.

ExcelinEd has published a resource that describes why spring 2021 state assessments are more crucial than ever before and identifies six areas states should consider as they plan for assessments with their state assessment providers.

This doesn’t mean that there couldn’t, or shouldn’t, be some flexibility involved with how test results are used, but to best help all students recover and move forward—especially students who are historically underserved, continues ExcelinEd—reliable assessment data are essential.