States and schools now have a clear understanding of their annual assessment pathway, waiver or not, with the majority of states pursuing testing. (As NACSA has stated before, assessments in 2020-2021 should not be used for high-stakes accountability purposes, but are important for diagnostic purposes and targeting support for students while we navigate a global pandemic.)
Given that we have another unusual testing season upon us, we need to assess equitably and wisely in the immediate and prepare to improve assessments in the future.
Assess Equitably and Assess Wisely
It’s a disservice to kids and communities to not use assessment information to target portions of the enormous amount of money states, districts, and schools are receiving. As assessment information becomes available, new resources should be targeted to the schools and students with evidence of most need.
Statewide, comparable assessments are the best way for educators and policymakers to monitor progress, target support, and intervene when necessary in addressing opportunity and achievement gaps, especially for students who have traditionally been underserved. That information is particularly important now, given the very different schooling experiences students have had during the pandemic: across the country, low-income Black and Hispanic students are also more likely to be in fully remote instructional environments as compared to their white peers. Given the limited effectiveness of online learning, it’s urgent that we know how students are doing in order to provide better learning experiences for students most impacted.
At the same time, schools have had to grapple with A LOT of change in every part of schooling in the last year, and clarity on assessments will help prepare schools. That includes being clear with districts, charter school networks, and schools about when and how testing will be conducted, how results will be used, and, in some cases, changes to the test.
States should require the same high-quality statewide test so states have comparable, accurate information on students to target federal and state support. And test data shouldn’t be the only information educators look at to make decisions, but they play an essential role.
Improve and Continue Assessments Going Forward
Some will use this moment to advocate for stopping comparable statewide assessments for good. That would be a grave mistake. Statewide comparable assessments will tell us if the investments we are making right now are producing the results communities expect: narrowing opportunity gaps, providing better educational opportunities for students, and improving student learning. Absent this information, it’s anyone’s guess if the plans and actions states, districts, and schools take are working to create better opportunities for all students.
With more information (as in, more, comparable assessments given), comes more precision in understanding how students are doing and what supports they need. That’s largely the point of assessments: It gives educators, families, and communities a lens into what students know and allows districts and states to both target support where it’s needed the most to address inequality – especially for Black and Brown students, Indiginous students, students with disabilities, and English Learners — and hold adults accountable for the results they are achieving for all students. A test score is just one measure of student progress, but it allows us to see where students are being systematically underserved. That’s important during the global pandemic and beyond.
At the same time, states and charter school authorizers should be open to assessment innovation — while keeping actionable, school-level information and information at the school and state levels on how subgroups of students are doing. (The Education Trust has outlined many of the key components of assessments and why they matter.) Where innovation is needed is in more school-level measures of quality that are calibrated with communities and their aspirations for their children, schools, and communities. That work starts with deep engagement of communities, particularly with communities that are not often at the table.
In the immediate, states have an opportunity to ensure that their schools are providing the supports students need right now. Assessments used with an equity lens play a big role in ensuring students are supported.
In the long term, assessments must continue as we all rethink how to provide better learning opportunities for students, but being open to innovation is important.