The role of assessment data in driving educational opportunity

The role of assessment data in driving educational opportunity

By Dale Chu

The National Center on Education and the Economy (NCEE) recently published an interview with Dr. Sean Reardon, Professor of Poverty and Inequality in Education at Stanford University. Reardon is known for his scholarship and commitment to measuring educational opportunity, as well as bucking conventional wisdom with studies like the one he did in 2017 that examined standardized test scores in ways that challenge how we often look at wealth and education in America. For instance, without Reardon’s work, we might not recognize the progress of large urban districts like Chicago.

NCEE’s interview—worth reading in its entirety—delves into the Stanford Education Data Archive, a publicly available dataset developed by Reardon that provides ten years of ELA and language arts test scores for nearly 430 million third through eighth-graders across the country. The interactive database converts test scores to a common scale, allowing for comparisons across districts and states, across grade levels, across time, and across student groups. The conversation with Reardon explores a lot of interesting ground from Reardon’s approach to measuring socioeconomic status to his use of “learning rate” as an indicator of student progress.

But it’s Reardon’s perspective on annual testing that merits particular attention. In response to a question about how to handle the missing data resulting from the pandemic, Reardon calls out both NAEP and state assessments as sources of valuable information when looking ahead:

If regular standardized testing resumes in 2022, then we’ll also be able to use those scores to see where children fell behind as a result of the pandemic. That could help us to learn what happened in individual schools and districts. We need to know that to know where to target resources and what kinds of resources are needed. We need to figure out where students really suffered and need extra supports to catch up. I think this information will be patterned by class and by race, but it also varies a lot from student to student. For some, it’s really hard to not be in the collective, social environment of the classroom or school. For others, it may have been somewhat beneficial not to be distracted by other people. 

Reardon adds, “Test score data shows us where the problem is and when it occurs. That’s good, but it doesn’t tell us what exactly is happening that causes it. Linking the data we have to other types of data can help diagnose causes and point to remedies.” All true, though as it stands too many states are staring at a huge hole created by two consecutive years without good assessment data. Indeed, getting back on the testing wagon in 2022 seems more important than ever.

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