Beyond the Scantron: Tests and Equity in Today’s Schools

Beyond the Scantron: Tests and Equity in Today’s Schools

By Dale Chu

The George W. Bush Institute recently produced an informative and highly engaging 13-piece series examining the importance of high-quality assessments and why they continue to be an essential guardrail for educational equity and excellence. The conversations reflect an assortment of expert voices on how assessments are designed, how they are deployed, how they can be improved upon, and the critical role they play in light of today’s extraordinary circumstances.

In one interview, former Louisiana state superintendent John White talks about the important role of assessments in improving teaching and learning. His answer to the question of how states should handle assessments during the 2020-21 school year deserves underscoring:

I’m troubled by the call for waivers without any vision for what should be in its place. In the absence of state testing, it may well be that we have no way of verifying how much learning was lost during a time when it’s particularly critical that we measure that loss. It’s unlikely that we’re going to be able to rate schools comparably in every state. The situation is too volatile. But that doesn’t diminish the need for validating whether or not kids actually learned. In fact, it accentuates the need for validating student learning.

I couldn’t agree more, though it’s unfortunate that the appetite for John’s brand of reform has significantly diminished.

In another interview, my friend and former Dallas and Colorado Springs superintendent Mike Miles outlines four discrete reasons to test: (1) Identify student proficiency; (2) Assess what works (e.g. programs, personnel, pedagogy); (3) Assign and prioritize resources and; (4) Accountability. With regard to the last point, Mike acknowledges the challenges presented in the wake of Covid, but as anyone who knows Mike will tell you, it’s not a reason to lower expectations for students or to sacrifice the important information provided. Mike puts it best at the end:

Without testing, the kids who already have advantages will continue to have their advantages. The status quo will prevail because you don’t reprioritize and allocate resources; you don’t address the gap because you don’t know what the gap is; and you don’t address equity because you don’t know where kids are. 

Amen.

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