During all the disruptions of the pandemic it was the right call for Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to eliminate standardized testing this year.
Students, teachers, and parents have been working hard (and creatively) to adjust to distance learning with minimal preparation. Kudos are deserved all around, from the state Department of Education to local districts, school administrators and all the support staff who have scrambled to adjust. But perhaps the biggest kudos need to go to working parents and teachers of young children who are redefining multi-tasking; they are doing amazing jobs.
While in the current situation it is not appropriate to expect the same level of preparation or performance on year-end testing, that doesn’t diminish testing’s value. For those who say we did without testing in this situation so we don’t need to have tests in the future, I’d point to the fact that we are doing without a lot of societal “institutions” (such as going to restaurants, sporting events, concerts, parks, etc.). That doesn’t mean we should eliminate them in the future.
The education funders of the Florida Philanthropic Network have held as one of their key tenets (and areas of support) assuring that our students going through the Florida K-12 system are prepared to be successful in their post-secondary education and careers. There are many moving parts to make this happen: rigorous and challenging standards, excellent teaching, supportive administrators, engaged parents, and grade-appropriate curricular materials to name a few of the most critical. But even with all these pieces in place there is no assurance students are growing academically. How can you tell if you don’t measure it?
Research done by TNTP, the New York-based The New Teacher Project, that was released as the report, “The Opportunity Myth” shows that students live up to the expectations set for them by their teachers. If they are given challenging materials, they will perform up to the high standards set.
On the other hand, fifth grade students who are given reading assignments that might be more appropriate for a third or fourth grader, will perform at that level as well. They will work to the level of expectation set by adults and perform at that third or fourth grade level. A fifth grader’s “A” on lower grade materials doesn’t prepare them to be successful in sixth grade or beyond. Sadly, data shows this is happening regularly, especially with African American and Hispanic students who are being held to lower expectations.
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When this plays out throughout a student’s career, there’s no wonder high school graduates can’t figure out why they struggle when they get to college. The good news is that students will work to live up to high expectations set for them and they will perform. Grades alone will not measure that; we won’t know they’re performing unless there are clear and challenging standards coupled with a standard means to measure the students’ growth.
Bill Hoffman is interim president and CEO of the Florida Philanthropic Network, a statewide membership network of philanthropic organizations working to build philanthropy to build a better Florida.