Imagine public school students on Long Island taking standardized tests this year.
Some of them would fill out answers in familiar classrooms where they’ve been studying every day since fall. Others would puzzle out the answers at school desks they’ve had access to for just a couple of days a week, sporadically.
And yet another group, whose schools have no in-person learning, or whose parents have not felt comfortable sending them with COVID-19 rampant, would likely take their exams at home.
Some of those homebound children would face tests after a fine breakfast, in a cozy and well-lit room, in a calm environment. Others, though, would work on exams with hiccuping computers, at uncomfortable tables with other children or adults making noise nearby. And many children, no matter how comfortable their surroundings, would be unable to give the test their full focus.
They, too, are enduring the heartache and fear this pandemic has brought.
This week, the state Education Department asked for a waiver from the federal requirement that states administer the 2021 tests, citing the pandemic. That waiver ought to be granted to New York’s students, as it was last year.
For a decade, parents and teachers and education activists have argued that the state standardized tests administered to measure the academic achievement in English and math of children in the third through eighth grades don’t properly do so. It’s also been claimed that for some students, even the traditional state Regents exams on which high school students generally must get at least a 65 to receive a standard diploma, aren’t accurate reflections of mastery for some children.
Generally, we have argued that the data standardized tests do provide is more meaningful and useful than gathering no concrete, standardized and objective information at all. The test results are also the most direct way to drive resources to struggling schools, by objectively highlighting their challenges.
But this year it is clear that these tests would provide results so uneven, garnered via testing conditions so diverse and challenging, that the data would often have little meaning. Tests taken in impossible conditions won’t reliably tell us what students have learned.
This year, many school superintendents say the tests the local districts buy and administer are sufficient. Some of those are better than the mandated state exams. Adaptive tests, in particular, that get harder in response to correct answers and easier in response to wrong ones, can measure mastery and growth on one single scale over a student’s entire career, pinpointing shortcomings and shining a light on the path to progress.
In the best light, this two-year hiatus is an opportunity to find and adopt better tests while creating more support for them from teachers and parents.
But this year, measuring learning in such disparate environments would be as effective as measuring a waterfall with a strainer, putting pointless pressure on students and teachers for no good reason.
— The editorial board