Analysis: It’s Tempting To Scrap Testing, But We Need Data To Measure Student Progress. It’s Time For A Fresh Approach

Analysis: It’s Tempting to Scrap Testing, but We Need Data to Measure Student Progress. It’s Time for a Fresh Approach

When the COVID-19 pandemic led to the sudden closure of schools in the United States, the U.S. Department of Education made the decision to waive all state testing requirements for the 2019-20 academic year. This not only put an end to the federally mandated annual testing in reading and math that had been in place for two decades, but also marked the end of an era focused on holding schools accountable for student outcomes.

While it may be tempting to solely concentrate on emergency funding during this crisis, it is crucial that we also prioritize data collection. Without collecting data, parents, students, and teachers will embark on a challenging journey without any sense of direction or progress. However, we must avoid the temptation to simply restore the old measurement and accountability systems. Instead, we need a fresh approach to measuring student progress.

This requires breaking free from the mindset that data was only used to pit schools, teachers, and students against each other. Such an approach fostered a worldview based on scarcity, where some had to lose for others to win. This mindset discouraged risk-taking, experimentation, and an inclusive approach to student learning.

Our new report, "Measure Everything," proposes a different philosophy that is centered around families and aims to make learning visible whenever and wherever it occurs. By investing in various measurement tools and establishing connections between them, we can gain the necessary insights to effectively allocate emergency funding and provide real-time information to families, students, and teachers.

Firstly, we should adapt the best aspects of annual state assessments and give them a more focused and modest purpose. Instead of canceling these tests, we should support the parents and community leaders who acknowledge their important role in promoting transparency and protecting vulnerable students. However, the role of these state assessments in our education system should be reconsidered. While assessing student literacy and numeracy skills is valuable for resource allocation and intervention purposes, annual tests were never intended to provide real-time feedback to improve teaching or assess broader aspects of a child’s development. We should maintain the tradition of annual assessments to prevent schools from becoming mysterious entities and because the information matters greatly to many parents. Nevertheless, it is time to do better.

Secondly, we should embrace the data collection opportunities that have emerged in the past two decades with advancements in technology. These opportunities enable us to capture real-time information about student mastery not only in core subjects like math but in other areas such as foreign languages, music, and programming. Platforms like Zearn have provided us with essential insights into student performance during a disrupted school year.

Furthermore, in an educational landscape where learning occurs everywhere, we must prioritize the collection and organization of data. Investment in student portals that securely store and monitor progress data for children and their families is crucial. We also need to reconsider how we assign credit and recognize students’ mastery of skills and knowledge, both for career readiness and college preparation. For example, if a student demonstrates progress in learning computer programming through an app, their achievements should be recognized within the school system and beyond.

Lastly, we need to rethink how education data can better inform policymakers and the public about effective strategies for students. Too often, existing research only yields ambiguous answers. To address this, integrating research efforts into emergency funding initiatives will significantly expand the available information to make informed decisions for our children. This involves establishing education research task forces in partnership with local universities, designing funding programs to allow for randomized controlled trials that separate treatment and control groups, and dedicating 1 percent of all education funding to research.

By investing in data collection, high-quality research, and the integration of information systems, particularly during times of crisis, we increase our capacity to adapt and innovate in meeting the needs of students in this new era.

Derrell Bradford serves as the executive director of the New York Campaign for Achievement Now (NYCAN), while Marc Porter Magee is the founder and CEO of 50CAN.

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  • joshwright

    Josh Wright is a 34-year-old educational blogger and school teacher who has been working in the field for over a decade. He has written extensively on a variety of educational topics, and is passionate about helping others achieve their educational goals.

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