In the face of the chaos and uncertainty that surrounded the pandemic last year, all 50 states canceled the federally mandated assessments after obtaining waivers from Education Secretary Betsy DeVos. She recently said she wouldn’t do it again, but she is now gone and decisions about what to do about the testing will fall to the administration of incoming president Joe Biden and, if confirmed by the Senate, his education secretary, Miguel Cardona.
Already, as The Post’s Valerie Strauss reported, there are growing calls from various groups across the political spectrum, including teachers unions, to again — for a second year — skip the testing. That would be a mistake. How can schools create plans to make up for covid-related learning losses if those losses haven’t been measured? Wouldn’t knowing which students have been most adversely affected be helpful in directing resources for mitigation efforts? Don’t parents have a right to know whether their sons and daughters are achieving?
It is encouraging that Mr. Cardona recently said he wants students to take the exams this spring. Also that the Connecticut education department he heads recognized the importance of testing as “guideposts to our promise of equity.” In a memo issued in October, the department said state assessments are “the most accurate tool available to tell us if all students — regardless of race/ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, English proficiency, disability, or Zip code — are growing and achieving at the highest levels.” The importance of accurate information in addressing educational inequities was cited by a group of civil rights, social justice and disability rights groups in a letter last fall urging the Education Department not to abandon testing.
Unlike last spring, when school districts were caught off-guard by the unprecedented health crisis of covid-19, they have had time to prepare for the current school year. It is critical that a measure be taken of whether students are learning and whether — as feared — Black, Hispanic and poor children have been most adversely affected. There must be, as Mr. Cardona has acknowledged, accommodations for states to have flexibility in how they use the results to prevent individual teachers and schools from being unfairly held accountable for a lack of student progress.
Assessments alone are not the answer to children’s learning challenges, but they provide a crucial tool by shining a spotlight on problems.