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COVID-19 and Standardized Tests 

Mercedes Schneider, Ph.D., is an author, blogger, classroom teacher and researcher. Garn Press just published her fourth book, A Practical Guide to Digital Research: Getting the Facts and Rejecting the Lies. Mercedes blogs at Deutsch29 She and I conducted the e-interview below as the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc far and near in late March.

Seth Sandronsky: In brief, what is taking place with standardized tests amid national school closures due to the coronavirus pandemic?

Mercedes Schneider: In short, in the face of school closures nationwide, standardized testing is being throw to the curb. Many states petitioned the federal government to waive testing requirements associated with Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which the federal government eventually did. However, before that federal waiver was declared, states were already releasing districts and schools from state-level testing accountability measures, including using tests to measure teacher performance.

SS: What are the standardized testing companies such as Pearson doing to push back and regain lost market share and revenue?

MS: Lobbying is the best bet for the likes of Pearson, but with the coronavirus crisis front and center and the stress on social distancing, lobbying is virtually impossible right now (not to mention that any effort to push to protect testing would make testing companies appear calloused and risk damaging public image). That noted, once the country is past the coronavirus crisis, I expect Pearson et al. to be lobbying full force to be sure America’s classrooms remain bound to testing. The risk is that state legislatures might not be willing to sacrifice the cost of the testing in the face of recovering from coronavirus’ hit to state and local economies. Moreover, states might be more willing to push back on federal testing requirements in the name of post-pandemic, economic difficulties.

SS: Can you comment on what the grassroots pushback against standardized testing looked like before the COVID-19 pandemic arrived?

MS: In many places, grassroots pushback is present in the anti-testing sentiment that pervades discussions of the “testing season” that has replaced the last quarter of the school year. However, few districts have been successful at boycotting testing. NYC and Long Island are known for such success, with roughly 45 to 50% boycotting testing in recent years. However, with the coronavirus crisis impacting the entire nation, public cries came quickly to ditch testing at both state and federal levels.

SS: How does legislative intervention play into the movement against standardized testing?

MS: The standardized testing era is a product of legislation, beginning with the federal No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act of 2001. If the federal government had not tied Title I money to testing, it is unlikely that states would have done so, or would have done so across decades. However, states can push back against the federal mandate, if not completely, in ways that trim down testing and possibly take advantage of ESSA (the post-NCLB version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965), which allows states to use other methods of assessment aside from standardized tests. Testing was born of legislation, and it will be constrained (if not die) by legislation.

One issue that speaks to legislators is money, and testing costs states millions of dollars a year. I see the death of the standardized testing movement being one of legislators deciding that the financial cost is not worth it and increasingly cutting the amount of funds budgeted for standardized testing.

SS: Where can readers go for information about and analysis of standardized testing?

MS: One informative site for information about and analysis of standardized testing is the National Center for Fair and Open Testing (Fairtest).  A second useful resouce Colorado-based National Education Policy Center (NEPC). Among the many NEPC topics are “accountability and testing” and “assessment”.

SS: Thanks for your time, Mercedes. 

MS: My pleasure, Seth.

Seth Sandronsky is a Sacramento journalist and member of the freelancers unit of the Pacific Media Workers Guild. Email sethsandronsky@gmail.com

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