Among the many things confirmed over the last year has been education decisions are complicated because there are multiple layers to weigh in nearly all judgments. However, in nearly all cases, keeping convoluted matters as simple as possible should be the guiding force.
An example would be there is no debate in-school instruction is superior to virtual or hybrid models. Therefore, all efforts, such as has been the case in Worcester County, should be clear toward returning as many kids to school as possible while allowing those who do not feel safe to continue schooling from home. It was announced this week Worcester County will welcome back all students who desire in-school instruction March 8. This is a positive for students, parents and educators.
This week’s decision, however, by the Maryland State Department of Education and supported by the federal education officials, including the Biden administration, calls for standardized testing to take place this spring. The subjects of reading and math (but not science and social studies) will be tested ion grades 3-8 and high school this spring. This means test prep will have to begin almost immediately if it has not already.
The argument is kids must be scaled to determine exactly how far behind they are compared to previous groups of kids their age. The results are inevitable. The test results will be down significantly. It’s just a question of how bad. Cynical minds would suggest federal and state education officials want the test scores to show low achievement so major gains are realized in future normal years. It’s the wrong approach no matter.
We would prefer the testing be skipped this spring as it was last year when practical issues – namely reliable internet access for all — made administering them impossible in a virtual environment. The problem, and it’s a fundamental flaw for public education, is test results are typically tied to funding and teacher evaluations in many cases. As The Baltimore Sun in an editorial this week, “There is no reason to put teachers and students through the unnecessary stress and trauma. We need to let everyone get back to the basics and transitioning to in-school learning through establishing connections and meaningful social interaction.
It will be years before we know the toll months of isolation and learning through a screen has had on our students. The fears of long-range consequences are real while short-term issues with mental health are obvious already.
We hope this decision on standardized testing is reconsidered because it confirms state and federal leaders are out of touch with the realities inside schools across the state and country.