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Sorry… We Don’t Need to Administer Standardized Tests to Figure Out Who Needs Support!

February 25, 2021 Leave a comment

In a post I wrote yesterday evening I lamented Biden’s decision to break his promise to teachers about standardized testing, a decision I attributed to his unwillingness to break a bipartisan covenant that such tests are the best means of “measuring learning”. Today, in catching up on my reading, I came across a Hechinger Report post titled “Educators Weigh the Value of Standardized Testing During the Pandemic” by Kelly Field. Published on February 13, the article describes the rationale for administering the tests… and it is preposterous:

Those who favor a return to standardized testing say policymakers need comparable, state-level data to focus their spending on districts where the “Covid-slide” has been the steepest.

“We know the impact of Covid has not been distributed equally across communities, so it’s not going to make sense to spread our resources broadly, like peanut butter,” said Jennifer O’Neal Schiess, a partner at Bellwether Education Partners, a national nonprofit focused on the needs of underserved children. “We need to be strategic.”

Of course we know the impact of Covid has not been distributed evenly across communities… just as we’ve always known the schools that are “failing”: they are the schools that serve children raised in poverty! And yet, despite this knowledge which we’ve possessed for nearly 50 years we continue to spread our resources “like peanut butter” because failing to provide ANY funding to districts who DON’T need it is politically unfeasible. And the Hechinger Report says as much:

Opponents counter that testing during a pandemic will add to the stress students and teachers are under and cut into this year’s already constrained instructional time. They say schools already have plenty of evidence on which students have suffered the most under remote learning: low-income students and students of color.

It’s only going to tell us what we already know,” said Joshua Starr, chief executive officer of PDK International, a professional organization for educators.

According to the report, though, both sides agree that the pandemic IS providing an opportunity to revisit the testing policies that have driven schooling in “low performing” schools for at least two decades. Will it happen? I keep hoping against hope…

Biden’s Biggest Blunder and Biggest Broken Promise: Refusing to Abandon Mandated State Standardized Tests

February 24, 2021 Leave a comment

I was dismayed but not all that surprised that Joe Biden’s administration has decided to proceed with the State standardized tests mandated by ESSA. I was dismayed because I was hoping that despite his dedication to bipartisanship he would keep his promise to teachers that he would dismantle the test-and-punish regimen that has been in place now for nearly two decades at the national level and countless more at the state level. The rationale for giving the tests was particularly lame:

…a letter sent Monday by acting Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum to state school superintendents (informed) them that the department will not invite state requests for “blanket waivers of assessments” required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, even though such waivers were granted last year due to the pandemic.

It is urgent to understand the impact of Covid-19 on learning,” the letter states. “We know… that some schools and school districts may face circumstances in which they are not able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices.”

It is clear that the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-2021 school year so that states can respond to the unique circumstances they are facing; keep students, staff, and their families safe; and maintain their immediate focus on supporting students’ social, emotional, and academic development,” the letter continues.

Wait? What? If it is clear that “…the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-21 school year” why mandate an INFLEXIBLE mandate that all states give all students whatever standardized assessments they’ve designed as a metric for “student learning”. And no one needs to give a test to every child in America to “…understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning“… especially since no standardized test EVER showed anything other than what we all know: children from homes in districts or schools with highly educated and engaged parents “outperform” children raised in poverty. Standardized tests have shown us this for decades! Why do we need to show it again? And it doesn’t require the administration of a universal standardized test to “prove” that children who had no access to the internet learned less on Zoom than children with fiber connections. Moreover, what will result from this “finding”? Will schools serving children raised in poverty get more money? Will funds be made available to upgrade internet connectivity in poor neighborhoods and remote communities? We know the answer.

Mercedes Schneider, an insightful blogger who has over 30 years of experience in the classroom, offered these insights:

“…surveying district and state superintendents about what they need in order to provide equitable education opportunities for their students would be a much better use of U.S. Department of Education time and money than spending multiple millions on standardized tests.”

I have been teaching the better part of three decades, and I have yet for any parent to ask me for standardized test scores so that the parent can know how their children are doing,” stressed Schneider. “They ask about grades on class assignments; they discuss specific skill areas that are challenging and ask for help with addressing the specific challenges arising from completing classroom assignments; they discuss supports needed when the children or other family members are facing health issues or other crises at home; they ask for assistance addressing behavior issues, but they never ask for standardized test scores out of a need to know how their children are doing.”

The only good news for teachers is that Betsy DeVos is no longer around at the Federal level. The bad news is that once these results are made public, the 20+ states who have adopted DeVos-ian voucher plans will use the “evidence” to convert more schools to charters… and the Venture Capitalists whose contributions seemingly had some influence on Biden will be very happy. Teachers, on the other hand, will not be so happy.

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What Students REALLY Need is More Free Face Time and Less Class Time

February 24, 2021 Leave a comment

As noted in previous posts, many pundits, parents, and politicians are deeply concerned with the “fact” that “children are falling behind”. The remedies they’ve offered are to provide more seat time every day, more seat time over the summer, and standardized tests that will presumably prove how far behind they’ve fallen. Forbes education writer Nick Morrison is not buying into this. He believes that children need more time to play together, to be with each other independent of adults. After recounting all of the funds the UK and USA are planning to spend on summer schools and noting that such programs have no demonstrable proof of success in the past, Mr. Morrison offers a radical idea: give children unstructured play time with each other! Here’s his reasoning: 

But (expanded hours of schooling) masks the real effect of lockdown on children and young people, which is that the biggest loss hasn’t been to their learning, it’s been to their well-being…

Children need to catch up with their friends, not their lessons.

The incidence of probable mental health problems among children aged five to 16 shot up dramatically during the early stages of the pandemic, according to a study published in The Lancet earlier this year, from around one in 10 (10.8%) in 2017 to almost one in six (16%) last year.

More than a quarter reported disrupted sleep and one in 10 children and young people said they were often or always lonely.

Earlier this week, the British Psychological Society warned that talk of lost learning represented an “unhelpful narrative” that could put unhelpful additional pressure on children and young people…

Adding to the backlash against summer schools, earlier this month a group of academics in England, calling themselves PlayFirstUK, argued for a “summer of play” to help children recover from the stress of the last year.

Children learn so many skills through play that will serve them well in later life, whether it’s negotiating with other children, regulating their emotions or using their imagination to invent new games.

Children also need to spend time outdoors. Many children have been confined to their homes for much of the last year, and sitting in a classroom over the summer is the last thing they need…

…instead of trying to squeeze children into reaching targets set by adults – many of which are arbitrary in any case– we should recognize that there are some things more important.

After all they have been through over the past 12 months, children don’t deserve to spend their summers in a classroom, they deserve a break.

The key paragraph is this synopsis of Mr. Morrison’s argument is this:

Children learn so many skills through play that will serve them well in later life, whether it’s negotiating with other children, regulating their emotions or using their imagination to invent new games.

This implicitly calls for children to play games without adults overseeing them: free play, not organized leagues or group games: just kids being with each other and having fun. The fun deficit can be fixed easier and faster than the academic deficit… and it is AT LEAST as important! 

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