Op-Ed: Why the Prichard Committee supports state assessments this spring – Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence

Op-Ed: Why the Prichard Committee supports state assessments this spring

Op-Ed: Why the Prichard Committee supports state assessments this spring

Op-Ed By Brigitte Blom Ramsey, President & CEO, Prichard Committee for Academic Excellence
March 4, 2021

We know a year into a global health pandemic, one which left our students and our teachers displaced and scrambling to keep up, sounds like the worst time to maintain state assessments.  In our view, it’s actually the exact right time to measure the toll of COVID on student learning.

Let’s say I’m a health-conscious individual and over the holidays I splurged a little too often on food and drink and I backslid on exercise. I knew I wasn’t treating my body as well as I did before the holidays and it was time to get back on track. To do so, I’d want to know how much damage I did. I’d jump on the scale to get a measure of how much weight I’d gained and how much I needed to lose to get back to my pre-holiday weight – and, even better, back on the path to my pre-holiday aspirational goal. Then, I’d make a plan to get there.

Now, make no mistake, my weight gain was my choice. COVID, on the other hand, was nobody’s choice and the complete disruption to schooling as we knew it was absolutely necessary for health and safety.

Still, COVID has been a negative impact nonetheless and our state assessments are much like that scale. They provide an important gauge on the magnitude of learning loss. They give us key information for making plans – plans for long-term student success and for a big, bold Kentucky future.  This is especially true for students for whom the pandemic has widened already existing inequities: students of color, students from low-income backgrounds, English learners, students with disabilities, students experiencing homelessness, and immigrant students.

Back to my scale analogy, my inclination might be to say, “Why bother jumping on the scale, the damage is done. I just need to get back to my healthier lifestyle and the weight will come off.” Maybe, but I’m more likely to be successful if I know what I’m dealing with. Owning the truth of my weight gain helps me make intentional plans to get back to the weight that’s healthy for me. It also gives me a way to track my progress toward my goal and to share my plans and progress with others who will help and support me.

State assessments – especially in the incredibly challenging year of COVID – provide the same valuable tool: to collectively own the impact of the pandemic on student learning, develop and share intentional plans to help students catchup, engage the support of our communities, and to track progress toward our shared goals for all students. State assessments are not a measure to punish schools, educators, or students, but a tool to provide data about how students have fared academically in the last year.

As a tool to understand the impact of COVID, state assessments should be administered this spring as a way to truly understand the impact of the last year. That said, no doubt, flexibility is critical.

  • Our state Department of Education should work with assessment vendors to balance gathering meaningful and useful data – with the need for flexibility
  • The testing window should provide flexibility to both students and schools for scheduling assessments in this still-extraordinary time
  • Shorten the tests and the scoring window so data can be returned to schools to inform summer planning. (This would be an innovation that would help improve education outcomes long after the pandemic)
  • Reporting of assessment results by the Department of Education should be accompanied by multiple measures that paint a fuller picture of the impact and the challenges, including attendance and broadband access

With assessment results in hand, what next? We know many students are not where they need to be in their learning. How do we support continued progress for all students and ensure gaps in academic progress for groups of students are not exacerbated as a result of the pandemic? We offer three solutions below.

A Plan: Resources & Summer Learning: Many Kentucky districts are already building plans for students to continue learning through the coming summer, and it’s important that every district has a clearly articulated summer plan to support and accelerate student learning. When state assessment results arrive, they should be used to improve the summer plans. The $928 million from the December Federal stimulus, which the Governor has indicated will be directed to every school district in the state for local use, can and should be used to support these plans.

Transparent Communication: Results of the state assessments need to be shared publicly. Not as something punitive to schools and educators; they’ve been working exceptional hard to respond in this extraordinary time. Rather, as a way for all of us to own the truth of the last year on our goals for student learning and our educational progress as a state, and to share in the commitment to recovery. Just like my weight and scale example above, knowing the extent of the damage is simply a tool to help get back on track.

Community Engagement: If there were ever a time for our schools and community-based organizations to be wholly aligned around a shared mission, now is that time! The communication and plans listed above should bring the community into the conversation and the action plans. This last year, and the months ahead, are simply too much for any of us to manage on our own and our communities have shown eagerness to help through this time.

The Prichard Committee’s position to maintain state assessments is not because we don’t understand the pressures of this moment. It is precisely because we do. Our position is not because we want to hold schools and districts accountable for the losses the last year. It is precisely because we must all own the losses and recover together – ensuring EACH and EVERY ONE of our students is safely and securely on a path to success.

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