Testing is important? You don’t say…

Testing is important? You don’t say…

By Dale Chu

With the novel coronavirus dominating the headlines, disrupting schools, and upending lives, my friend Michael Petrilli recently made a droll observation calling attention to the irony in how testing is viewed in education versus in medicine now that we’re in the midst of a public health crisis. As it stands, one of the many stumbling blocks in the effort to beat back the new pathogen is both the shortage of testing kits and the inaccuracy of test results.

Because broad diagnostic screening is still getting in place, the U.S. is playing catch up while the number of cases rapidly accelerates. Former FDA commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb has observed that there’s a risk we have “tens of thousands of cases and not just thousands of cases” in no small part due to the lack of good testing data. Gottlieb says, “You want to make sure any diagnostic you’re developing is going to be [valid and] reliable.” In public health, you’ll find broad agreement on this point.

Not so in education. When it comes to standardized tests, too many folks seem content to operate in the dark while offering empty paeans to the trustworthiness of teachers, the joys of learning, and an assorted litany of buzzy phrases that distract from the real need for full and accurate information. Information, as imperfect as it may be, best provided by annual grade level tests. While adults bicker over the issue, the fate of our students—especially those too often marginalized in this country—hangs in the balance. To borrow from another friend of mine Chris Stewart: If education treated the achievement “pandemic” half as seriously as it did COVID-19, our children might be far better off.

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