Calls are growing for President Biden and Miguel Cardona, the man expected to be confirmed as his education secretary, to give states permission not to give student federally mandated standardized tests this spring.
Some states have already declared they will seek a waiver from the federal mandate, and now more than 70 local, state and national organizations joined to sign a letter (see text below) to Cardona urging him to let states use other assessments to determine how much progress students have made this year. More than 10,000 individuals signed it as well.
The letter says in part:
“It does not take a standardized assessment to know that for millions of America’s children, the burden of learning remotely, either full- or part-time, expands academic learning gaps between haves and have nots. Whenever children are able to return fully to their classrooms, every instructional moment should be dedicated to teaching, not to teasing out test score gaps that we already know exist. If the tests are given this spring, the scores will not be released until the fall of 2021 when students have different teachers and may even be enrolled in a different school. Scores will have little to no diagnostic value when they finally arrive. Simply put, a test is a measure, not a remedy.”
The Biden administration told states this week that it was extending the Feb. 1 deadline for seeking a waiver. New York and Michigan let it be known this week that they would see waivers, and California is likely to do the same. EdSource reported that more than half of the members on the State Board of Education said they would support a waiver.
“It would be educational malpractice to require LEAs [local education agencies)] to provide results of assessments that really are seriously in jeopardy of being valid going forward,” State Board of Education member Sue Burr said at a public meeting this week.
Last year, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos granted all states waivers from the testing after schools across the country closed when the coronavirus pandemic hit the United States. The logistics of giving the tests to students at home, along with concerns about the validity of the results, led to those waivers, and those pushing for new waivers say the conditions have not improved.
The decision on whether to grant waivers to states will be an early test for Cardona, the Connecticut superintendent of schools. He said before Biden tapped him in December that he would like schools to give the tests this spring even while not using the results in the same way they usually are: to evaluate specific teachers and students.
Biden himself expressed skepticism about standardized testing while he was running for president. At a December 2019 public education forum in Pittsburgh, he was asked whether he would commit to ending standardized testing in public schools. He responded: “Yes. You are preaching to the choir.”
He also said: “Teaching to a test underestimates and discounts the things that are most important for students to know.” He added that evaluating teachers by student test scores was a “big mistake.”
Supporters of accountability testing say that the exams are important to determine whether students are making progress and that two straight years of having no data from these tests would leave teachers and schools without critical information on how well their students are doing.
Those opposed to the testing say the results don’t actually help teachers with individual students — and there are concerns about the validity and reliability of the scores.
To: Secretary of Education Nominee, Miguel Cardona
Dear Dr. Cardona:
On December 14, 2019, President Joe Biden participated in the 2020 Public Education Forum held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Early childhood expert, Dr. Denisha Jones, explained the damage done by standardized testing and then asked, “If you are elected President, will you commit to the ending of standardized testing in public schools?”
Joe Biden’s response was immediate, direct, and clear. “Yes.” He continued, passionately declaring that “teaching to a test underestimates and discounts the things that are most important for students to know.” As you listen to his full remarks regarding why he is opposed to standardized testing, you will hear the authentic response of someone who is not only married to a teacher but who, growing up with a disability, may have felt the brunt of standardized testing himself.
We, the undersigned understand that the pandemic has inflicted enormous social, emotional, physical, and academic harm on America’s children. We also know that the consequences of the pandemic have not fallen equally on some children’s shoulders. Those who were disadvantaged prior to Covid-19 are bearing a disproportionate weight from experiencing more loss, more hunger, and more stress than their more affluent peers.
It does not take a standardized assessment to know that for millions of America’s children, the burden of learning remotely, either full- or part-time, expands academic learning gaps between haves and have nots. Whenever children are able to return fully to their classrooms, every instructional moment should be dedicated to teaching, not to teasing out test score gaps that we already know exist. If the tests are given this spring, the scores will not be released until the fall of 2021 when students have different teachers and may even be enrolled in a different school. Scores will have little to no diagnostic value when they finally arrive. Simply put, a test is a measure, not a remedy.
To believe that it is impossible for teachers to identify and address learning gaps without a standardized test is to have a breathtaking lack of faith in our nation’s teachers. The President made it clear in his remarks that he believes in the ability of teachers to identify what students do and do not know; we hope that you do, too.
Like the President, some of us who sign this letter reject the need for the standardized testing regimes that exploded over the past quarter-century. Others conclude that such testing has a limited role. However, we all maintain that at this moment in time, it is in the best interest of children that the U.S. Department of Education lift the mandate for annual testing this spring.
We hope that you agree with the sentiments of President Biden and with us, and upon your confirmation immediately cancel the 2021 testing mandate.
Respectfully submitted by the 74 national, state and local organizations who signed below and the 10,732 Americans who, to date have signed as well. You can find their names here.
The Network for Public Education
The Schott Foundation for Public Education
National Center for Fair & Open Testing, Inc. (FairTest)
The Alliance to Reclaim Our Schools (AROS)
Journey for Justice Alliance
In The Public Interest
The National Superintendents Roundtable
Defending the Early Years
Alliance for Philadelphia Public Schools
Arizona Educators United
BASD (Bethlehem Area School District) joe biden.
Badass Teachers Association (BATs)
Bay Area Collective Keeping Privatizers Away from Community Schools BACKPACS
California Educators United
Children Are More Than Test Scores
Citizens for Public Schools, Boston, Massachusetts
Class Size Matters
Coalition for Equity
Connecticut Public School Advocates
Educators for Democratic Schools
Florida Council of Churches
Fund Education NOW Florida
Illinois Families for Public Schools
Indiana Coalition for Public Education
Indiana Coalition for Public Education — Monroe County
Iowans for Public Education
It Takes a Village
It Takes a Village to Tackle HB70
Long Island Opt Out
MI CORE (Michigan Caucus of Rank and File Educators)
MI Ed Justice
Miami-Dade County Public School Parents (MDCPS Parents)
Michigan Collective for Equity in Education
National Educators United
New Rochelle FUSE (Federation United School Employees)
New York State Allies for Public Education
Northeast Indiana Friends of Public Education
Northwest Indiana Coalition for Public Education
Northwest Ohio Friends of Public Education
Opt Out Georgia
Oregon Save our Schools
Parent Coalition for Student Privacy
Parents for Public Schools — National
Parents for Public Schools Greenwood and LeFlore County (Mississippi)
Pastors for Florida Children
Pastors for North Carolina Children
Pastors for Oklahoma Children
Pastors for Tennessee Children
Pastors for Texas Children
Public Education Matters Georgia
Public Education Partners (Ohio)
Public Schools First NC
Raise Your Hand Illinois
Rochester Coalition for Public Education
Save Michigan’s Public Schools
Save our Schools New Jersey
Save our Schools North Carolina
School and Communities United Milwaukee
Step Up Louisiana
Support Our Students Alabama
The New Bedford Coalition to Save Our Schools
?The Public Science Project at the CUNY Graduate Center
United for Florida Children
Washington Township Parent Council Network of Indianapolis
Wear Red for Ed
Wellstone Democratic Club
When Public Schools Reopen