From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of February 8

From the Kitchen Tables of Jenn and Paige: What We’re Watching, Week of February 8

As we all try to understand our rapidly evolving education environment during the COVID-19 crisis and the uncertainty that surrounds it, the Data Quality Campaign is working to elevate what’s happening – whether it’s concrete examples of what’s working in states and districts, ideas and proposals from the field, or things our organization and others are exploring. To accomplish this, we’re bringing you our thoughts on the most salient conversations happening in the last week on navigating education during the pandemic and future recovery efforts.

We’re writing this column together to combine our perspectives: Jenn brings years of experience in the classroom and in education leadership at the district and federal levels, while Paige’s expertise comes from more than a decade working on state and federal education data policy and issues. Check back weekly for our roundup of noteworthy thinking on education data and policy.

The big news last week was the new administration’s spate of executive orders about data and using evidence in decisionmaking. This week, we watched the confirmation hearing for Dr. Miguel Cardona, Biden’s nominee for education secretary, and Cardona’s responses jibed with what we saw last week from the administration. Taken together, all of this news is more evidence that the Biden administration is thinking critically about how data is used, and that there will likely be opportunities for states to build on their data infrastructure with federal support. On testing, Cardona expressed support for summative assessments this year to better understand student performance while setting aside the use of test results in school performance ratings—which is becoming a more widely held opinion.

Indeed, DQC this week signed on to a letter with 18 other civil rights, social justice, disability rights, and education advocacy organizations calling on the Cardona to refrain from giving states waivers for testing this year. As the letter says: “We recognize that statewide assessments are only one measure of student learning, and assessments alone will not address systemic discrimination and inequity in our education system. But right now . . . waiving assessments will only make it harder to identify and address one of the most inequitable school years in history.” Given Cardona’s past comments as Connecticut Commissioner of Education as well as those he gave in this week’s hearings, we at DQC are cautiously optimistic that our recommendations will be taken seriously.

The future of testing for accountability. DQC Board member Stephen Pruitt, president of the Southern Regional Education Board, is another to add his voice to the conversation about testing. In an opinion column, Pruitt urges all states to not only hold assessments in spring 2021 while setting aside test-related accountability for the year, but also to use the pandemic as an “opportunity to overhaul tests so they are more relevant to students and more useful to schools.” Jenn is also on the record for advocating for spring 2021 testing—which will yield important information for educators and policymakers, however imperfect it is—while backing off accountability measures like school performance ratings for the year. Pruitt takes the argument further, thinking about how states can build better tests and advocating for the new administration to provide grant funding and flexibility to do so. With the Biden administration putting data at the forefront, now is a great time to think about current accountability systems and whether indicators need to be updated or redesigned to effectively capture student learning.

Faster test results in Maine. Speaking of innovative approaches, Maine officials have decided to shift to a different statewide annual assessment this year due to the disruption COVID-19 has caused to learning. The redesigned test will allow teachers and administrators to receive student performance data within days instead of months—some data in only 24 hours—responding to the need to act on information faster during the crisis. Along the theme of making tests better tailored to student needs, Maine is also working to eventually modify separate subject-matter tests into one “integrated test that will be more useful in testing students’ real-world knowledge.” This focus on getting educators useful information about student performance that they can use to modify instruction should be a goal of any assessment instrument.