On March 20, a day marred by increasingly bad news, there was an unexpected shout of joy rippling across every state in the US. The Department of Education announced it “will not enforce standardized testing requirements” this year. Standardized testing is canceled.
Teachers could be heard exhaling sighs of relief when they found out this outdated measure of their own effectiveness would not occupy any more of their curriculum this year. Parents cheered when they learned that, in the midst of all of the disruption on their kids, the pressure of these tests would no longer be one of them. Children from California to New York whooped in exaltation when they found out they would not have to dedicate hours and hours to multiple choice tests that measure a small part of their intelligence but determine a massive part of their future.
If you paid attention to the response to this announcement, you saw that it was about more than this current moment. So many stakeholders have been wanting standardized testing to lose some of its emphasis (and benefits to multibillion dollar corporations) for years. And there is now hope that this decision to cancel standardized will finally spur that change.
Here's a look at why standardized tests have been such a headache and why it's such great news for teachers across the country.
Successful test results require specific test prep.
We know from studies and research that doing well on a standardized test has more to do with how a student was prepped for that test and less to do with intelligence. Researchers are learning more and more that tests are not an indicator of overall success. Teachers spend an incredible amount of class time prepping students. With many schools heading to virtual environments, it's good that teachers won't have to solely focus on test prep.
In the midst of the worry and disruption, is having kids prepare for a multiple choice test really the best use of time? Is it ever the best use of time?
Teachers and students have more time to focus on what is most important.
With standardized testing canceled, teachers finally have the space to be creative. They have more freedom to guide their students through this uncharted territory. Teachers are going to struggle keeping large groups of students engaged online. Virtual learning is new to most. At least now teachers have the chance to focus on what is most important to their students and find ways to increase engagement. They can design outdoor learning experiences, use project-based learning, and give writing prompts that are personal and meaningful to kids. Teachers can focus on creating curriculum that does more than just prepare students for a test.
Of course teachers still have a big job to do to make sure students are still learning essential subject matter, but now they can do what they have wanted to do all along: use their creativity to teach the content that matters most.
Colleges will start looking at what really matters, too.
The purpose of assessments like the SAT and ACT is to determine a student's college readiness. However, these exams are often not even the best predictor of college success. At best, they predict how well students will do on similar types of assessments in college. They don't measure things that matter, like work ethic or soft skills. Standardized tests do not indicate how well-rounded a student is. They don't show how much initiative they have, or what big ideas they possess. Perhaps colleges should have deemphasized these assessments long ago, but now they're going to have to.
Now, college admissions officers are going to have to evaluate potential students in new ways. That Eagle Scout badge is going to count for more. And what clubs and extracurriculars students have dedicated their time to will be even more meaningful. Perhaps colleges will start asking for portfolios containing student work and projects. Maybe college admissions essays will finally get read.
We're finally eliminating a major inequity that has existed for years.
Because of the extenuating circumstances teachers and students have to undergo, test scores would be skewed if they were given this year. Many students now have the responsibility of caring for younger siblings while their parents work. This would cut into their prep and study time. Kids without computers at home wouldn't be able to practice as much as students who do have access to a device. Testing this year would be inequitable.
However, when is it not inequitable? When do we not have students with difficult home lives or limited access to technology? Perhaps this crisis is illuminating the inequity that has always existed.
Here's the truth: All of these points matter for teachers and students in the midst of this crisis, but they should matter the rest of the time as well. Our schools should always have equity, but standardized testing isn't the way. Colleges and universities should always have a more diverse view of students and not rely on a single indicator. Teachers should always be able to focus on what is most important. They should be able to use their advanced education and immense creativity to design learning experiences that work for their specific students.
America's teachers, parents, and students are relieved standardized testing is canceled for 2020. Now let's hope it stays canceled.