27 Oct Student assessment during COVID-19: A conversation with Laura Jimenez (Part III)
By Dale Chu
Laura Jimenez is the Director of Standards and Accountability at the Center for American Progress, a left-leaning policy and research think tank. Last month, Laura authored a report titled Student Assessment During COVID-19, which discussed why schools should assess students next year using annual state tests; the role other assessments might play in supporting high-quality instruction; and what states and systems can do to support measurement and data in the wake of the pandemic. Because of her expertise in state assessment systems, Laura was a guest speaker last summer as part of Assessment HQ’s webinar series. I wanted to spend more time delving into her paper and her outlook on state testing. In the final installment of this three-part interview, Laura looks into her crystal ball and provides some predictions on the future of state assessment.
Dale Chu: What’s your sense of how a Biden administration might approach the question of state assessment next year?
Laura Jimenez: The Biden campaign has not said that annual assessments should be eliminated; they said we need to re-think how those assessments are used. Given that stance, I think a Biden administration would take a case-by-case approach to any waiver requests, but they would also take a look at precedent set by how the Department has handled these requests in the past. For example, some states have had calamities with their testing administration that required a limited approach to administering federal waivers. Importantly though, those waivers dealt with unforeseen circumstances, and testing next year is an event for which there is time to develop alternative plans.
Dale: While testing skeptics clamor for another round of testing waivers, some say they have their sights set more broadly on removing the federal requirement altogether as part of the next ESEA reauthorization. Is this your sense too, and if so, what can be done to turn the momentum?
Laura: We need a radical shift in the conversation around testing and accountability. Parents, teachers, schools, districts, states and the federal government all play a role in ensuring students receive a high-quality education. And, they have different tools at their disposal to reach that end. It would make sense, therefore, that they would need different types of data about student performance at their disposal in order to enable them to deploy their resources most effectively.
So, the question we need to ask is what are the available tools and what student data is most useful to meet that purpose? Depending on the answers to these questions, we must design an assessment system that provides the data needed, when it’s needed, in a way it can be understood and used.
In direct response to your question, simply discussing the potential for testing waivers misses a critical opportunity to design a more responsive student assessment system.
This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.