Coronavirus-canceled testing brings an opportunity.

As a teacher and parent in the state of New York, news that standardized testing might be canceled this year brings mixed emotions. I suspected the closures due to COVID-19 might come to this, and for many years I have been pretty open about my personal feelings about abuse-by-test. My own daughters have refused to take them. But here’s the thing: I am pro assessment, just not when they are poorly conceived, designed, and administered. Especially not when utilized in wrong-headed “accountability” systems, all of which pretty much defines the New York State grades 3 through 8, end of year testing. So for that testing, I say I say good riddance for now, but also I wonder now what? Opportunity,  for states, to rethink their testing requirements that’s a start.

What will I be doing as an educator? What am I doing?

My third-grade team is busy hammering out packets of paper/pencil materials for distribution to maintain the skills of our students. We’re regularly communicating with families regularly via text messages and online platforms like Google Classroom so we can help each other through this. Right now there’s a flurry of emails and messages between COVID-19 news that even our limited “Mondays only” schedule is now a 100% non-essentials stay home protocol. The hours have gotten longer even though I’m home, but how could they not? I worry about these kids like they are my own, and I know that most parents aren’t aware of what it really takes to do what they have to do now. So **** it: if they need me, I’m going to be there for them.

That means remote meetings, teaching, learning and communicating will be the rule for now.

We’ll be using school buses and our drivers to deliver food to our families who need it. We’ll also be collecting much of the academic materials for student use. For those who have internet access, they can use our online platforms and demonstrate mastery that way. It is very much a “do as much as you can however you can” protocol. Stay safe and away from large groups and closed spaces. One good thing about this is that many of the communication, collaboration, and responsibility targets for a citizen-to-be can be assessed this way. It might not happen at the school-day scheduled time for that content area, but I’ll see the results and the products, and in real life, your skills aren’t limited to a schedule or calendar. You carry those skills and your knowledge with you wherever/whenever. This is what I have been excited to see.

What this suspension of testing thing is really about, and what we can make it.

The suspension of testing is about health and safety with a focus on isolation with the goal of minimizing the impact of this pandemic. There was no coming to the light with a better approach to instruction, assessment, and accountability. So it may not be a more enlightened educational philosophy thing, but I’ll take victory where I can find it. Now I’ll use this breathing space to advocate and fight for better assessments tomorrow. If we as parents, educators and caring citizens don’t jump on this opportunity, education could revert back to the same bad habits when this crisis passes.

Instead, we need to highlight the good being revealed.

Our students are not “standard”, neither are we and nor is the world. So standardized testing in education, like trash, needs to be reduced and repurposed. Instead, a standard set of expected skills, with non-standard ways to express those skills should be our guiding star. What we are doing now, my colleagues and my district-this is the way! Our question should not be “how can we measure them for fit to standardized boxes and slots?” It should be “What are the things that students really need to be able to do, and how do we assess those things?”

So good riddance to standardized testing, I say, and hello to a great opportunity for real, authentic assessments.

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