Opinion | Don’t abandon standardized testing. Fix them.

According to the New York Post analysis According to data from the New York State Department of Education, “Nearly 200,000 students, or one in five, refused to take the state’s standardized reading and math tests for grades 3 through 8 administered in the spring.” 2023.

That number surprised me. There is certainly some precedent for this, but I thought the educational havoc wrought by the Covid pandemic might have diminished the popularity of the opt-out movement: the tide of parents who have chosen to exempt their children from state standardized tests. Apparently not.

Opt-out advocates argue, among other things, that “single tests punish and discourage already vulnerable students” and “the tests themselves become the center of education.” But after the major disruptions of 2020-22, I thought even test-skeptical parents might reconsider the value of getting a simple accounting of learning loss that compared children’s progress across schools and districts, to see if your kids are still playing ball. -up post-pandemic.

I also thought that condemning revelations in recent years about “balanced literacy,” a method focused on “developing a love of books and ensuring students understand the meaning of stories,” as Times education reporter Sarah Mervosh described it, which demonstrated be less effective than phonics (“solid, systematic instruction”), it would make parents realize that standardized testing is an important part of developing the best possible curriculum.

Without evidence, it would have been harder for the public to discover that balanced literacy doesn’t work very well. As Mervosh reported last year in a review of the “revolt” against balanced literacy, “Momentum for reform accelerated in 2019, when national reading scores showed significant improvement in just two places: Mississippi and Washington, D.C. . Both had required more phonics. “

Opposition to standardized testing is not new, but it is especially prominent in New York, which has been described as “anational epicenter”of the opt-out movement. As The Times reported in 2015, resistance to standardized testing “began snowballing after 2013, the first year that Common Core academic standards became the basis for judging student performance in New York.” York.” Over the past decade, an opt-out rate of around 20 percent has not been uncommon.

But despite reforms in New York and elsewhere, the broader debate over standardized testing has stalled.

As Freddie deBoer, author of “The Cult of Intelligence: How Our Broken Education System Perpetuates Social Injustice,” told me, “This is a situation that drives me crazy because it assumes that the two alternatives are hours of high-stakes testing for each.” student every year or not take any exam.”

It doesn’t have to be that way, he said, because there is a third option: fixing the tests, particularly state tests, to make them more useful and effective. DeBoer said that National Assessment of Educational Progress, a test that not all students take every year, is often considered “the gold standard.” It is administered annually to a stratified, nationally representative sample of children. usually around 2,500 per stateaccording to the National Center for Educational Statistics.

Additionally, there are a handful of places currently working on testing reforms that address many of the problems parents have with state-administered tests, including concerns that they are too longthey don’t really capture the depth of what students know and the results come too late (sometimes not until summer vacation or the next school year) to provide useful information to teachers.

Allie Pearce, K-12 policy analyst at the left-leaning Center for American Progress, said, “Florida and Texas recently launched year-long testing pilot programs.” Instead of one long test taken in the spring of the school year, with results that don’t come in until the school year ends, year-round testing provides “three testing opportunities throughout the year” and then Schools “make data available to everyone.” educators,” sometimes in as little as a week, Pearce told me. That way, parents and educators have “almost immediate information about student performance.”

I spoke with Iris Tian, ​​deputy commissioner for analysis, evaluation and reporting at the Texas Education Agency, about her state’s situation. annual evaluation pilot, which is currently in its second year. Before students even sharpen a pencil, she said, “each question is reviewed and approved by a group of current Texas teachers. In fact, we field-test each question to make sure it’s not biased. Assessment creators also receive ongoing feedback from schools to ensure that the information teachers and principals get from the tests is truly useful to them.

In the pilot, the three tests are conducted in the fall, winter and spring, and part of their research involves determining how short they can make the test while still being able to provide a valid statistical picture of where students are, he explained. Tian. They are also redesigning the test to more closely reflect “what happens in classrooms all year” and support classroom instruction, rather than forcing teachers to teach to the test, a common complaint that parents and teachers have about standardized tests.

One way the test is being modified? Fewer multiple choice questions, Tian said. “We all know that if all you do in classrooms day after day during the school year is give multiple choice questions, that’s not how kids learn.”

Having quality information about how American children learn is critical, especially since educational gaps between the haves and have-nots have been exacerbated by the pandemic. As Tom Kane and Sean Reardon explained in a guest essay for Opinion in May:

In 2019, the typical student in the poorest 10 percent of districts was a year and a half behind the national average for their year (and nearly four years behind students in the richest 10 percent of districts). in both mathematics and reading.

By 2022, the typical student in the poorest districts had lost three-quarters of a year in math, more than double the decline for students in the wealthiest districts. The declines in reading scores were half those in math and, similarly, were much larger in poor districts than in rich districts. The pandemic left students from predominantly minority and low-income communities even further behind their peers in districts wealthier and whiter than them.

Without standardized testing, we won’t know where to put the most resources, or even what the contours of the problems students face are. Getting rid of widespread screening will not help the most vulnerable children; It will only leave us wondering how best to support them.