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Biden Admin Wants “to Focus on Assessments” in 2020-21

February 22, 2021

On February 22, 2021, acting ed secretary Ian Rosenblum (formerly of testing-friendly ed reform org, Education Trust) sent this letter to state school superintendents informing them that standardized testing must happen in the 2020-21 school year “to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need” and “to address the educational inequities that have been exacerbated by the pandemic.”

Anyone with a smidge of critical thought and modest powers of observation could easily make a short list of the impact that COVID-19 has had on learning. Furthermore, the biggest support public schools have needed for years is adequate (equitable) funding not tied to property taxes and not tied to any federal competition.

Surveying district and state superintendents about what they need in order to provide equitable education opportunities for their students would be a much better use of US Dept of Ed time and money than spending multiple millions on standardized tests.

But, but, but, according to Rosenblum, as a last-thought, tacked-on reason for administering tests during a pandemic, “parents need information on how their children are doing.”

I have been teaching the better part of three decades, and I have yet for any parent to ask me for standardized test scores so that the parent can know how their children are doing. They ask about grades on class assignments; they discuss specific skill areas that are challenging and ask for help with addressing the specific challenges arising from completing classroom assignments; they discuss supports needed when the children or other family members are facing health issues or other crises at home; they ask for assistance addressing behavior issues, but they never ask for standardized test scores out of a need to know how their children are doing.

The ridiculousness of administering standardized tests in 2020-21 is further highlighted by the non-standardizing of the entire process. Need to offer a shortened test? Okay. How about a “remote administration”? Sure, sure. How about a testing window that stays open to the “greatest extent practicable”? No problem.

How is one to weigh the meaning of scores on a test that is designed to be administered at a certain length but is shortened this year? Is the shortened test easier because of lessened testing fatigue? Is it more difficult because having fewer items makes getting one incorrect negatively affect the score more than it would otherwise? Who knows. 

And testing remotely: Can we start with who, exactly, is completing the test? Is there any unauthorized assistance being offered for its completion? Are scores affected by spotty internet connections, or distractions in test completion by other activity happening in the home, for instance? Who knows.

What is the effect of having a very wide testing window on testing outcomes? Could those who complete the test later be at an advantage compared to those who complete it sooner, or vice-versa? Who knows.

But Rosenblum reiterates that the point of offering the nonstandardized-standardized tests “to focus on assessments to provide information to parents, educators, and the public about student performance and to help target resources and supports.”

In other words, the real point is “to focus on assessments.”

We MUST give tests. Otherwise, we might have to rely on the common sense of asking school officials at the state and local levels what, specifically, they need in order to deliver the best K12 education possible in a pandemic. And we certainly cannot do that.

In the opening of his letter, Rosemblum states, “President Biden’s first priority is to safely re-open schools and get students back in classrooms, learning face-to-face from teachers with their fellow students.”

No test needed to achieve this goal. 

A major step involves formulating and activating a federal plan for vaccinating school personnel. Set aside vaccine doses for this specific purpose, and employ the National Guard, if need be, to enact the plan.

No test needed. Just action, President Biden. Just action.

Joe Biden


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  1. Assessment is not a test. Read my book

  2. If they are hooked on measuring “learning loss” why can’t they test a sample of a few thousand or however many would be statistically representative and not kick an entire system already on its knees. Makes no sense.

    • Because there is no “measuring ‘learning loss'”. There is assessment, evaluation, and judging of what a student knows, can work with, do but no measuring. The whole learning loss trope is more of the deficit in the bank account of someone’s supposed learning that has taken over the teaching and learning process. It is also a (il)logical extension of the medicalization, that of diagnosis and treatment as a mode of (mis)understanding what the teaching and learning process entails.

      As far as that measuring?

      The most misleading concept/term in education is “measuring student achievement” or “measuring student learning”. The concept has been misleading educators into deluding themselves that the teaching and learning process can be analyzed/assessed using “scientific” methods which are actually pseudo-scientific at best and at worst a complete bastardization of rationo-logical thinking and language usage.
      There never has been and never will be any “measuring” of the teaching and learning process and what each individual student learns in their schooling. There is and always has been assessing, evaluating, judging of what students learn but never a true “measuring” of it.
      But, but, but, you’re trying to tell me that the supposedly august and venerable APA, AERA and/or the NCME have been wrong for more than the last 50 years, disseminating falsehoods and chimeras??
      Who are you to question the authorities in testing???
      Yes, they have been wrong and I (and many others, Wilson, Hoffman etc. . . ) question those authorities and challenge them (or any of you other advocates of the malpractices that are standards and testing) to answer to the following onto-epistemological analysis:
      The TESTS MEASURE NOTHING, quite literally when you realize what is actually happening with them. Richard Phelps, a staunch standardized test proponent (he has written at least two books defending the standardized testing malpractices) in the introduction to “Correcting Fallacies About Educational and Psychological Testing” unwittingly lets the cat out of the bag with this statement:
      “Physical tests, such as those conducted by engineers, can be standardized, of course [why of course of course], but in this volume , we focus on the measurement of latent (i.e., nonobservable) mental, and not physical, traits.” [my addition]
      Notice how he is trying to assert by proximity that educational standardized testing and the testing done by engineers are basically the same, in other words a “truly scientific endeavor”. The same by proximity is not a good rhetorical/debating technique.
      Since there is no agreement on a standard unit of learning, there is no exemplar of that standard unit and there is no measuring device calibrated against said non-existent standard unit, how is it possible to “measure the nonobservable”?
      THE TESTS MEASURE NOTHING for how is it possible to “measure” the nonobservable with a non-existing measuring device that is not calibrated against a non-existing standard unit of learning?????
      The basic fallacy of this is the confusing and conflating metrological (metrology is the scientific study of measurement) measuring and measuring that connotes assessing, evaluating and judging. The two meanings are not the same and confusing and conflating them is a very easy way to make it appear that standards and standardized testing are “scientific endeavors”-objective and not subjective like assessing, evaluating and judging.
      That supposedly objective results are used to justify discrimination against many students for their life circumstances and inherent intellectual traits.
      C’mon test supporters, have at the analysis, poke holes in it, tell me where I’m wrong!
      I’m expecting that I’ll still be hearing the crickets and cicadas of tinnitus instead of reading any rebuttal or refutation.
      Because there is no rebuttal/refutation!

  3. Laura H. Chapman permalink

    Biden has lied and the Ed Trust’s vested interest in making tests mandatory adds insult to many years of bashing teachers, students, and public schools. OPT OUT is the only answer, or so it seems.

  4. Jana Heffernan permalink

    No matter how teacher -friendly a government is, they love their testing! We are in the middle of our testing here in British Columbia, too.

  5. In education as in every other concern there will be no progress so long as political campaigns are “sponsored” by corporate commercial interests.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Mercedes Schneider on the Biden Testing Plan | Diane Ravitch's blog
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  5. Standardized Testing During the Pandemic is Corporate Welfare Not Student Equity | gadflyonthewallblog

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