Written by: Reagan Flowers, PhD
We have reached unprecedented times in education. At least 124,000 schools across 48 states have been impacted by the canceling of standardized tests, as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. These standardized tests have historically been purported to help measure student progress and school performance, though many doubt the effectiveness. The consequence of failing to measure whether students are getting the preparation they need to move forward will be felt far and wide, particularly by the testing industry.
One of the largest captive markets in education are testing corporations that derive profit to the tune of billions of dollars annually from mandated standardized tests, profit which through 2021 will be undercut due to the cancellation of mandatory testing. For demographic groups that have been performing at the bottom tier of standardized tests, there is sure to be a sigh of relief that at least this year they will not have to endure the mumblings of how poorly their ethnic or socio-economic group is performing. Now is the time to make the success of minority and low-income students a priority over capital gains, and an even more opportune time to move completely away from standardized bubble-in test sheets, and the online equivalent, to more equitable performative based assessments.
With the Department of Education granting a one-year waiver on assessment and accountability, many experts believe that schools are going to need more than a year to recover. Particularly when you take into consideration the disproportionate number of students who did not have equal access to opportunities prior to school closures, and are likely to have fallen even further behind. With remote learning, many teachers continue to find it challenging to create the best blended learning experience necessary to meet the varying abilities of their students. The challenges of virtual and remote instruction have made it impossible to hide century-old inequities that continue to persist in public education, particularly in urban and rural communities.
Testing waivers will not eliminate inequities that continue to persist at school and at home, with student’s performance ratings now being inextricably dependent on both. The question is no longer whether schools have high-quality instructional tools and resources to support instruction; the broader question now is whether students have access to adequate technology at home to support learning. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, it was common knowledge that many minority and low-income students lacked access to technology and high-speed internet, and did not have a quiet or dedicated place in their homes to do school work. These facts did not matter as much, because all instruction was required to take place at school, and there was little to no effort being made to improve learning conditions in a student’s home.
A one-year testing waiver will not allow enough time for schools and communities to recover and create long-term solutions that address systemic inequities. Community leadership must work with school systems to facilitate partnerships aimed at bridging the economic and education gaps. These partnerships can support implementing innovative solutions that leverage infrastructure including public/private wireless networks, media networks, and cloud based platforms. This could create neighborhood WiFi hubs managed by schools and/or community centers, which would increase access to opportunities for lower income communities to connect to resources, and could facilitate communities participating in technology swap meets, or the like.