Standardized tests should still be given

It has been suggested that because of COVID-19 upheaval, America’s students and educators should be given a break from standardized testing this year.

That is precisely why the tests should be administered this year.

Before you begin calling friends to join the mob demanding my head on a platter, hear me out:

First, no student, teacher, school or school system should be held accountable for scores on the 2020 round of standardized tests. That would be insane. It would be comparing the apples of a normal school year to the oranges of this exceedingly abnormal semester.

It’s likely many youngsters will miss a full three months of classroom time this year. What makes standardized testing an instructive exercise in what is happening to the students while they are on enforced spring break.

Most school systems plan ahead for extended absences. Sometimes that is because of inclement weather affecting everyone. In other cases, it is because individual students have been out of school due to illness. The idea is to come as close as possible to the educations students would have received had they been in the classroom.

As many local parents are aware, that can involve sending up packets of homework on paper and/or making online education tools available. It emphatically does not mean just turning the kids loose and trusting them — and their parents or other caregivers — to do the work. Teachers often are working as hard or harder than if school was in session, checking up on the kids and offering help online or by phone.

How well does that work? More specifically, exactly what works well and what flops? How well can we trust parents to keep the kids’ noses to the grindstone? How many moms and dads come up with creative, effective learning tools the education establishment hasn’t thought of yet?

All of that and more is why standardized tests ought to be given this year — sometime. It may not be possible for that to occur before next fall.

Don’t look for any exact science in the process. Realize, however, that as much as the intellectuals who devise standardized tests (and often profit from them) want you to believe the normal process is scientific, it isn’t entirely. There are simply too many variables.

One educator I trust suggested that a concern about my idea is establishing a baseline — in other words, what did the kids know before the coronavirus break interrupted? The best we can do would be to refer to results of the last round of standardized testing. It’s not perfect, but it’ll have to do.

Almost beyond any doubt, results of post-COVID testing will be disappointing. What would you expect? Again, test results this year shouldn’t be used to judge the quality of in-school instruction.

But what happens if the scores are not as bad as educators may fear? That would show us that their long-break contingency plans worked. It would show us parents are conscientious and creative.

More likely would be a mixed bag of results, some surprisingly good and some truly dismal. Test scores this year could provide a wealth of information — if it is used appropriately. Again, that could steer us toward tweaking what works and throwing away what doesn’t.

Isn’t that why we use standardized tests in the first place?

Mike Myer can be reached at mmyer@theintelligencer.net.


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