Teachers’ union pushes back on state testing

Education Minnesota, the state’s teachers’ union, isn’t happy about the decision to proceed with testing this spring, saying it “will take away valuable instructional time when educators need to focus on their students’ academic and emotional needs,” according to a press release.

“Minnesota students need their educators to focus on helping them catch up academically and emotionally after a year of traumas, disruptions and distractions. Educators are going to need every minute this spring to do it,” [Education Minnesota President Denise] Specht said. “We can’t afford the huge time commitment, not to mention the added safety risk of stuffing students into computer labs, for the least-useful assessments of the year. This has not been a standard year. We don’t need a standardized test.”

Students will need help catching up. School closures have taken a social, an emotional, and an academic toll on children. What we can’t afford is continuing to exacerbate these harmful impacts by keeping students out of school. The teachers’ unions have been quite persistent with coming up with reasons to do so, though, despite this evidence or that science supports students’ return to in-person instruction. Or that schools can be safely reopened even if teachers aren’t vaccinated against the coronavirus.

To help students catch up though, we need to know the extent of their learning loss. Administering assessments, even if it might be challenging, will provide this helpful information, which then helps drive instruction and helps guard against lowered expectations. Even liberal organizations support summative statewide assessments for the 2020-21 school year.

Given that numerous students struggled to meet grade-level proficiency even pre-COVID, getting baseline information sooner rather than later will aid the learning recovery process. How can teachers and schools create plans to address learning loss if those losses haven’t been measured? How will we know where to direct resources for mitigation efforts? How will we identify schools for targeted support? These so-called “least-useful assessments of the year” would inform that work.

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—reliable assessment data are essential.