What is the future of testing in K-12?

High-stakes tests could be suspended in multiple states, but administering assessments will be crucial in the fall, expert says
By: | June 1, 2020
School closures as a result of the pandemic have led many K-12 leaders to rethink high stakes testing, but overall school testing will likely continue. Experts say that testing students this fall could help identify the effectiveness of online learning, but changes to school assessment policies can still be made.Photo by Ben Mullins on Unsplash

Many states could extend their suspensions of high-stakes school testing into the next year due to complications relating to the novel coronavirus.

In New York, state officials recently announced that ELA and math tests used for screening high school applicants will be unavailable for consideration next year, reported NY Daily News.

In Massachusetts, a state board will soon discuss whether students who missed a high school science and technology test required to graduate only need to earn credits in a related course.

Related: Assessment literacy: A critical lever in classroom equity

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Meanwhile, South Carolina could eliminate standardized testing next year “to focus more on the student’s social and emotional needs” since administering assessments would be “very unfair and probably harmful to students [who] don’t have access to the technology or to the Wi-Fi,” Horry County area Representative for SC for Ed Kendra Pennington told WPDE.

Other states exploring the possibility of suspending high-stakes testing or changing school assessment policies include Florida, Georgia, Indiana and Pennsylvania.

Future of school testing

Some K-12 leaders believe that testing next year will help identify whether schools are meeting the individual learning needs of students. “When schools reopen, early assessments can help identify the kids who are further behind due to COVID-19 and even those who are further ahead than expected,” says Jason Mendenhall, president of state solutions at NWEA, a research-based not-for-profit organization that creates academic assessments for K-12 students. “Given the economic impact of COVID-19, many districts are also expecting high student mobility as parents who lost their jobs during the pandemic find new employment in areas with different school systems, so these schools will need to administer tests to see where these students are in their learning.”

Schools that received a state accountability waiver for their summative assessments for next year can still use school testing to identify where students are in their learning to help them recover from the COVID slide. “This document is different from waivers that relinquish the administering of assessments entirely,” Mendenhall says. “It’s important to make sure we’re not using these assessments in a way that will be detrimental to change but will instead retarget instruction to close these gaps for the following year.”

The NWEA is currently researching ways of testing students throughout the year to help teachers adjust their teaching and learning strategies while also leading to summative results. “Having interim checkpoints will help us understand what is and what isn’t working,” Mendenhall says. “That doesn’t mean that checking where we are at the end of the year isn’t, but giving more rhythmic assessments will help us make choices to improve learning throughout the year and not just for next year.”

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