With NAEP testing postponed, state testing is even more important

With the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) tests in fourth- and eighth-grade reading and math postponed for at least a year (originally scheduled for spring 2021), we will not have important national test data on student learning loss from COVID-19 and school closures. The last NAEP data set for fourth and eighth graders is from spring 2019, which showed reading scores in decline, and the next set of results aren’t expected until at least fall 2022.

This is all the more reason we should not postpone state testing. Currently, Minnesota guidance is directing the state’s public schools to prepare and plan to administer all required statewide assessments for the school year. This is a good thing, even if it might be challenging. Administering assessments will provide information on the academic impact the coronavirus has had, help drive instruction, and show which students are in need of more learning. State tests also help the public know how schools are doing and can apply a healthy pressure on schools struggling to meet the minimum academic expectations.

This also means that Biden’s education secretary “should resist all demands for another round of waivers from ESSA’s requirement that all students in grades three through eight should be assessed annually in reading and math,” writes Dr. Chester E. Finn, Jr. for The Fordham Institute.

Absent such data, we’ll see both a collapse, perhaps permanently, of results-based school accountability and—more immediately—an appalling dearth of information about who is and isn’t learning what during these challenging times for K–12 education.

Even if these test waivers are made available, states do not have to cancel their assessment plans and “can and should” continue with those plans, adds Finn.

…[S]tate tests are much less complicated to administer than NAEP during times when not all schools are open and not all students are physically present in the schools that are.

State assessments…don’t depend on sampling. They’re given to every student who is present, and they yield results for those students, results that are reported to parents for their very own daughters and sons. These data are then aggregated at various levels—classroom, school, district, and state—and are sliced and diced in various ways. It’s true that aggregations may be misleading when some kids are tested and others aren’t. But a great deal can be learned about what has and hasn’t been learned about those who are tested. And in many places, the school and district data will be reasonably accurate, at least for some grade levels, and can be compared with 2019 data to generate some of the “growth” data that will prove essential for identifying which schools and districts did particularly well in addressing the COVID-19 challenge and which face the heaviest remediation burdens.