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Standardized tests must inform instruction, not just gauge accountability, Newsday panel says

Local educators are discussing what students and teachers

Local educators are discussing what students and teachers can expect standardized testing to be like this year, after they were canceled in 2020.

Preparing students for standardized testing the year after the pandemic forced the cancellation of exams was the topic of Newsday’s latest virtual event.

The webinar, hosted by editorial writer Lane Filler and featuring education experts, looked at how best to meet the federal government’s mandate that standardized tests be administered this year.

The panelists, Dia Bryant, New York interim executive director of the Education Trust, Terry Earley, director of teacher and leader education at Stony Brook University and Lorna Lewis, superintendent of the Malverne school district and former president of New York State Council of School Superintendents, broke down the state of standardized tests in Long Island schools and what it means for students, teachers and schools.

Last year, New York state districts were excused by the federal government from third- through eighth-grade standardized testing as well as the Regents tests. The same waiver was denied by the government when requested for this year.

Panelists agreed accountability in the education system is essential. But they said such tests have to be helpful in informing educators about whether students are meeting the right bench marks.

Lewis said it’s important that learning be measured in a timely and purposeful way. But she said confidence has been lost in recent years in standardized assessments because results were not returned in time to inform instruction and the score used to determine passing and mastery was arbitrary and capricious.

"We have an opportunity here to re-imagine how we would assess and really give the reason that we should be testing and that is to inform instruction," she said.

Earley said there needs to be a balance between accountability and creativity when it comes to educating students and measuring that learning. "We can’t go to one spectrum of accountability where you stifle the teacher from being an exciting informative facilitator of learning and on the other hand you need some type of structure and accountability," Early said.

Bryant said the information derived from assessments is important when thinking about how the data is used to design curriculum and even intervention.

"I couldn’t imagine being a teacher or principal with out information about what my students knew and were able to do," she said. "And really thinking about the ways in which I need to support them."

Lewis said districts need to build in their own assessment system that informs what children are learning.

"But be it as it may the federal government has said, has declared, that the state has to give an assessment," she said.

She said her concern is that the current test is a three-day assessment that was designed to measure the accountability of teachers and not how the curriculum is benefiting children.

"At this point I say this is March if you’re going to give an assessment in April you really can’t give the assessment that’s in the can," Lewis said.

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