Statewide assessment results help complete the picture of how students are doing academically and shine a light on whether all students have equitable opportunities to learn. Parents, students, and educators need this information more than ever this school year because of all the pandemic-related disruptions. But those disruptions also make accountability flexibility for a year the fair thing to do for teachers and schools.
The Lee administration and the Tennessee General Assembly recognized the value of assessment results and the need for flexibility during the January special session. The US Department of Education (USED) did the same in February. These were good, sensible decisions that will help advance student success, and SCORE has joined Education Trust, Educators for Excellence, Thomas B. Fordham Institute, and 42 other advocacy groups that work on education issues in calling for USED to stand firm on the necessity of statewide assessment as it considers individual state applications for other flexibility.
These decisions should return the focus to how to administer the assessment safely and equitably and end unhelpful, misleading, and distracting debate over whether to test. Teachers can concentrate on providing excellent instruction, which is the best preparation for students to show what they know and can do when they take the test. Many Tennessee district leaders have been hard at work on the logistics of socially distanced testing, and they will soon be working to share those well-developed plans with parents to give them confidence their children are in safe surroundings.
SCORE speaks often about how important it is for educators to receive statewide assessment results so they can be used to improve instruction and to help guide wise use of resources to better support struggling students. Here’s something else to consider in this most unusual year of education experiences.
Families have been deeply engaged for the past year in their children’s education, from the usual involvement with homework to deciding which learning option worked best for their family and troubleshooting technical difficulties during remote learning. Our poll of Tennessee public school parents found that nearly all parents are worried that children in Tennessee might be suffering academically during the pandemic disruptions. We think that’s one reason, but not the only one, why a strong majority of Tennessee parents support administering the statewide assessment this year.
These survey results and conversations with parents bring home a key point: Parents are hungry for solid information about how their children are doing. They deserve this crucial information, and they didn’t get it last year. The results from statewide assessment provide families the clearest guide to whether their students are meeting grade-level expectations and complement measures from their local schools like homework, course tests, and grades. SCORE has been advocating for administering statewide tests during the 2020-21 school year to ensure that families and educators don’t go two years without a solid, comparable measure of student achievement.
Statewide assessment can and will be administered to most students in Tennessee this spring. And then teachers, district leaders, policymakers, and families will have clearer pictures about where their students stand and what support they need on the rest of their learning journeys.
David Mansouri is SCORE president and CEO.