Why we need to suspend K-12 testing for next school year now

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“Good leaders think about leadership, not management, and that means getting out in front of things,” says a character in Marc Cameron’s recent Tom Clancy novel, “Code of Honor.”

Some in the K-12 education world are rehashing common but oversimplified arguments in this very abnormal time to get rid of academic testing in American public schools entirely. As researchers and former state education officials and teachers, we see value in appropriate uses of student testing in K-12 schools.

Given the sudden closing of schools in the past six weeks because of the coronavirus, U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was wise to allow states to waive public school testing mandates for the current academic year. However, to get out in front of this ongoing situation, state departments of education should apply for waivers from standardized testing mandates for next school year (2020-2021) — and apply for those waivers now.

It is an understatement to say that COVID-19 has disrupted American life. Like many other institutions, public schools were forced to make radical changes — with no transition period for teachers, parents, and students.

Dr. Anthony Fauci has cautioned that “there is a very good chance that [the virus will] assume a seasonal nature. We need to be prepared that, since it will be unlikely to be completely eradicated from the planet, that as we get into next season, we may see the beginning of a resurgence.”

It’s understandable that schools are doing the best they can to muddle through to the end of the current school year. However, we do not believe that American children deserve to spend the next school year just “getting by.” If we require public schools to maintain the current standards and testing program for the next school year, we essentially are asking educators to work rapidly to fit square pegs into round holes. 

Given the likelihood of students switching between learning at school and learning at home again this fall, public educators have the duty — and they deserve the opportunity — to spend this summer rethinking their methods of instruction to meet the moment, in which a significant amount of teaching and learning will be done from home. We vehemently disagree with some public school advocates who claim that no learning can or should take place when students are at home. As they rethink their practices for 2020-21, states should be granted waivers from student testing mandates if — and only if — they can show that they will proactively do something creative regarding instruction and/or accountability with this flexibility.

Fortunately, there is an educational model to which educators can look. “Hybrid home schools” — schools in which students operate for part of the week in a school building and part of the week at home — shift instruction from school to home on an ongoing basis. 

Hybrid home schools typically meet two to three days per week under normal circumstances, and many have kept closer to their normal work routines in the current environment. Tuesdays and Thursdays, for example, might be considered “class days,” while the rest of the days are considered “home days,” in which students complete work, assigned by their teachers, at their own pace. This also gives teachers dedicated, predictable time to do grading, preparing and to conduct their family lives — especially if they have their own children with them at home. 

It is likely that public schools will not have the time to cover all required state content standards next year. But students doing more learning activities that are amenable to being completed at home —  reading, writing, research, creative activities — is certainly not a bad thing. We are advocating that public schools make the most of the situation caused by quarantines that are likely to come again next school year.

This opportunity to rethink their education programs is only possible if states receive a waiver from standardized testing and accountability mandates for the 2020-2021 academic year. A recent survey documents stresses that students are feeling from the situation; their schools should not add stress in the form of a year of rushed test prep. 

States should immediately start the waiver process from testing mandates and rethink how they will deliver academics for students if they are forced to learn from home for substantial periods of time during the upcoming school year. And federal policymakers should welcome waiver applications from states that work to address this situation creatively. The next school year will be here soon.   

Benjamin Scafidi and Eric Wearne are professors in the Coles College of Business at Kennesaw State University. Wearne is the author of “Little Platoons: Defining Hybrid Home Schools in America,” forthcoming from Lexington Press this spring.

Tags Anthony Fauci Betsy DeVos COVID-19 pandemic distance learning Education Social distancing Standardized test

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