Candidate Biden has made many boilerplate, vaguely general promises about education, as have most of the candidates (“it’s all over for Betsy DeVos”). But one promise has resonated strongly with teachers across the country.
In Pittsburgh, December 14, 2019:
Denisha Jones: If you are elected president, will you commit to ending the use of standardized tests in public schools?
Biden: (Before the applause even started to die down): Yeah.
Last year, Betsy DeVos saw the wisdom to forgo the Big Standardized Test in a chaotic response to a pandemic. She had indicated that she would not give up on this year’s test, but teachers were hopeful that a new administration could provide much-needed relief from the 2021 test.
Yesterday, Acting Assistant Editorial Secretary Ian Rosenblum informed state education officials that no waivers will be issued for testing this year. “To be successful once schools reopen, we need to understand the impact of Covid-19 on learning and identify the resources and support that students need.”
Leaders of national teachers’ unions were quick to respond. AFT President Randi Weingarten said, “This misses a huge opportunity to truly help our students by allowing for the waiver of assessments and the substitution, instead, of authentic locally developed assessments that could be used by educators and parents as a basis for work this summer. and next year.
NEA President Becky Pringle was more specific. “Standardized tests have never been valid or reliable measures of what students know and are able to do, and they are particularly unreliable now.”
The value of large standardized tests has long been debated. But their shortcomings are particularly significant now. The tests, which concern only mathematics and reading, are very limited in scope; Rosenblum’s letter suggests that states may choose to shorten the test, which will make its scope even more limited. Rosenblum’s letter also acknowledges that when students cannot yet go to school safely, it is reasonable that they do not come to school to take the test. This means that some students take the test remotely at home or not at all. Earlier this year in Ohio, in-person reading tests were administered to third-graders; one in five students did not take the test. The level of flexibility allowed by the ministry means that the results are unlikely to provide a standardized basis for comparing apples to apples.
This is in addition to the many different types of pandemic impacts observed in different districts. There will be so many variables affecting this year’s results that they will hardly make sense.
Rosenblum says test results are needed to identify the “resources and support” that students and schools need, but teachers could provide that information right now, today, if only officials asked them. And one of the resources they need is time.
Teachers move forward this year, battling a tangled mess of disease and response, one eye on their students and one eye on the pile of materials they hope to teach as the countdown to the end of the year check mark, check mark, tick away. Rosenblum’s announcement shortens the year, telling teachers they now have even less time than they thought they would – demoralizing news because they already knew they didn’t have enough.
The test results, collected under the wrong circumstances, lacking in detail and unavailable for months, are not worth the time sacrificed to collect them.
There is even more gloom for the teachers here. Candidate Biden always carried the baggage of his time in the Obama administration, but given some of his campaign speeches, many teachers were willing to hope that President Biden would go beyond these policies. But the signs are there; Ian Rosenblum came to this administration from the Education Trust, a pro-business reform group that joined with other such groups last summer in urging this year’s testing to continue. Many teachers had high hopes that this administration would be the one where teachers’ voices were finally heard. But with this broken promise, a new day seems less likely and teachers are wondering if it’s time to sing, “Meet the new boss, like the old boss.”