A Big Decision Awaits Biden’s Education Pick: to Test or Not to Test

Democratic 2020 U.S. presidential candidate Joe Biden REUTERS/Carlo Allegri

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President-elect Joe Biden’s education secretary will face an immediate high-stakes test: whether to allow states to forgo their usual standardized testing again.

State testing would bring a host of practical challenges at a time when many students are still learning exclusively from home. Critics, including many educators and their unions, also worry that it would sap resources and morale from an already battered school system.

But if states don’t test, it would mean going two straight years without one solid source of data on students’ English and math performance, making it more difficult to measure the gaps in learning many expect to result from months of disrupted schooling. Civil rights groups fear those gaps could then be ignored, particularly for low-income students and students of color.

The decision will have immediate effects for America’s schools and students and could have ripple effects for years to come. And the politics are fraught, potentially creating an intramural dispute among progressives, with teachers unions on one side and top Congressional Democrats plus some leading civil rights groups on the other.

“Sometimes you have to be willing to get your friends mad at you,” said Pedro Noguera, dean of the University of Southern California school of education, who backs giving tests but eliminating the stakes this year.

So far, Biden and his team have not tipped their hand. The campaign’s policy director said last month it was too soon to say whether testing should be canceled. “In some ways, the answer to this question depends on how much progress we can make in supporting our schools,” said Stef Feldman.

This week, a Biden transition team spokesperson would only point to the campaign’s education plans, which don’t address the issue.

Where most agree: Testing this year is going to be hard to pull off

The decision was less complicated last school year. As COVID-19 spread, schools across the country closed their buildings just before they were set to administer the tests, which are required by federal law in grades three through eight and once in high school.

 

Originally published in Chalkbeat