Pandemic Upends Testing Plans

April 24, 2020 | Volume 51, Number 9

Near the end of March, the U.S. Department of Education effectively canceled standardized testing for schoolchildren, saying it would waive testing requirements for states unable to test students because of school closures due to Covid-19.

By the end of the month, most states had canceled spring testing. By March 27, 49 states, DC, Puerto Rico, and the Bureau of Indian Education had all received or were seeking permission from the department to do so.

K-12 testing already was a disrupted arena with widespread disenchantment with extensive high-stakes testing among parents and educators. The coronavirus pandemic put additional pressure on school testing and has altered the Advanced Placement and college admissions testing as well.

A new national analysis released in April by FutureEd has found that between 2014 and 2019, lawmakers in 36 states passed legislation to respond to the testing backlash, including reducing testing in a variety of ways, a direction also taken by many state boards of education and state education agencies.

New capabilities that integrally link testing, data and instruction leading to personalized learning has contributed to the ongoing change in testing in schools. That change led Simba Information, EM’s parent, to recognize in 2019 that growth in the testing market had slowed with a projected growth rate of 1.2% to $2.77 billion in 2019-2020 from 2018-2019. Within that, Simba projected that state-level summative testing would decrease 2.1%, while classroom assessments would see growth of 3.2%.

Given the timing of the cancellation of testing, Simba expects at least a doubling of the projected decrease in summative testing and a flattening of classroom assessment as spending contracts.

“Perhaps it is time we re-evaluate and have a public discourse over the cost of assessment and exactly what role and purpose we seek from high-stakes testing and the results we seek as a society,” JC Bowman, the executive director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, wrote in an op-ed article in April. While Bowman acknowledge the need for testing to measure the progress of our students, he said “No single test should be a determinant of a student's, teacher's or school's success.”

COVID-19 Slide

The nonprofit assessment organization NWEA (Portland, OR) supported the Education Department’s decision. Given the disruption to instruction and stress, “using assessments for high-stakes purposes, such as determining school rankings, teacher evaluation, program placement, grade advancement or school selection, is not, we believe, fair or equitable during a prolonged national emergency,” the company said in a statement.

Assessments used for understanding to inform instruction, however, could continue to be useful, helping teachers assess where their students are at after they return to school to determine how best to move forward.

Based on previous research on summer reading loss, NWEA suggested that in a COVID-19 slide could results in substantially lower achievement levels for students in grades 3-8. Preliminary estimates suggest that students may return in fall 2020 with less than 50% of typical learning gains in mathematics, and in some grades, nearly a full year behind what normally would be expected.

For reading, forecasts suggest some students will return in fall with about 70% of the learning gains relative to a typical year.

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