Why testing is an essential for equity during COVID

Education leaders must collect data on students' access to education, a new report says
By: | October 1, 2020
"Opportunity-to-learn” data can provide critical context for educators when interpreting test scores during a COVID-disrupted school year. (GettyImages/arrowsmith2)"Opportunity-to-learn” data can provide critical context for educators when interpreting test scores during a COVID-disrupted school year. (GettyImages/arrowsmith2)

Effective assessments will be a critical piece of ensuring equitable access to teaching and learning during COVID, a new report says.

State policymakers need to act immediately to put testing systems in place to generate the data needed to gauge whether all students are being served equitably, according to “This Is Not a Test, This Is an Emergency,” from the nonprofit Aspen Institute think tank and the Center for Assessment.

“These recommendations support state leaders in pursuing the best possible approach to assessment and data collection given limited time and limited means,” said John White, former Louisiana state superintendent, and a Center for Assessment board member. “Testing skeptics and testing hawks both need to stand down a little bit so that leaders can make tough decisions without getting hammered from the ideological cheap seats.”

To generate any useful information about learning during COVID, these new testing plans must include contingencies for remote and hybrid settings, the report says.

More from DA: 7 policy moves that could transform K-12 education

The U.S. Department of Education has informed chief state school officers that the agency will not issue blanket state testing waivers. The report, however, says waivers may be necessary because administering tests and interpreting scores will be difficult this year.

State education leaders will also need to collect data on students’ access to education, including whether learners have broadband, digital devices, healthy environments for learning and access to a high-quality curriculum.

This “opportunity-to-learn” data—which provides critical context for educators when interpreting test scores—can be collected through student surveys and attendance records, and by examining how much time students have to interact with teachers and peers.

More from DA: 9 changes educators should make for SEL equity

Tests this school year should not be tied to school or educator accountability because of the challenges in conducting assessments remotely, the report says.

States should also consider shortening and adjusting tests so they focus on core curricular subjects and assessing only a sample of students.

“High-quality data collected at the state, district, and school-level can offer a more complete picture of the state of education in our communities than test scores alone and can spotlight where resources are most needed,” said Ross Wiener, executive director of the Aspen Institute’s Education & Society Program.

DA’s coronavirus page offers complete coverage of the impacts on K-12.