MTOY: Standardized Testing in Pandemic Is Not a True Picture

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April 14, 2021

Like many Michigan teachers, I was disappointed but not terribly surprised by the U.S. Department of Education’s denial of Michigan’s request to waive standardized testing requirements this spring. Much has been said regarding whether the tests should be cancelled or not, but as they say: There’s no use crying over spilled milk.
With that in mind, let’s talk about what test scores are not. Test scores are not:
  • A reason to second guess what you know about your students. Tests are a single data point about a child’s performance, and it is a data point that is often influenced by a number of factors outside of the control of our schools. Every time you interact with a student or their work, you are gathering data points about their learning. A test score doesn’t replace the intimate knowledge you have about your students.
  • An accurate gauge of our ability to adapt to education during a pandemic. These tests have not been adapted for the pandemic. They haven’t been changed to reflect how our education systems have changed. These tests are measuring student learning as if education has continued uninterrupted; we know better than that.
  • A reflection of your ability as an educator. As teachers, we are asked to differentiate our instruction to meet the needs of all students. We teach and reteach, we adapt and modify, we allow students to show their understanding in ways that work for them. After all that, students are asked to show their understanding in only one modality, and we’re asked to accept that this is an accurate measure of their growth as learners and our ability to teach. You know your students and you know yourself as an educator. Let go of the results of standardized testing as a true measure of ability of both students and teachers.
  • An indication of morality in you or your students. Test scores don’t make your children good or bad, and they don’t make us good or bad either. Data is (or should be) value-neutral; it gives us information we can use moving forward, but does not represent judgements about the people involved when that data was created. Your students are not their test scores. You are not their scores, either.
Now more than ever, the results of standardized testing will not give an accurate picture of our children and our educators. I hope that you will encourage your students to do their best on the test, prepare them in whatever way you can, learn what you can from the results, and let the rest go. We have enough to worry about as educators in a pandemic, and standardized testing does not need to be one of them.

About Owen Bondono: I teach ninth grade English in Oak Park, MI. I am white, transgender, middle class, married, bi and able-bodied, and my pronouns are he/him/his. I acknowledge that everything I write is informed by the perspectives and privileges I have been afforded in life. As the 2020-2021 Michigan Teacher of the Year, I hope to learn from and advocate for all teachers and students in the state, with a focus on building and supporting a diverse teaching force.
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