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Thursday, May 13, 2021

Standardized testing continues despite low in-person K-12 attendance

Educators still await district direction as testing season approaches

On a computer screen, students wear masks as they attend online classes remotely.
On a computer screen, students wear masks as they attend online classes remotely. Students continue to learn remotely as Washington state prepares to launch in-person standardized testing. // Photo by lucas law on Unsplash

By Silvia Leija

With less than a quarter of Washington students attending in-person classes, educators are still unsure of the 2020-2021 standardized testing plans.

Last March, for the first time since 1997, Washington state students did not take a statewide assessment. Instead, districts scrambled to create remote learning plans as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools. 

Now, as testing season approaches and students continue the return to socially-distanced in-person classrooms, educators are wondering: Will state exams happen?

“That is our plan,” said Christopher Hanczrik, director of assessment operations at the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction. “The plan is that for schools who have students coming into school, that the test is available and that they test the students who are there.” 

According to OSPI reports for the first week of February, 24.2% of students state-wide are receiving in-person instruction as schools continue to move to in-person teaching, meaning this year’s testing results will not demonstrate a representative sample of student learning.

Hanczrik explained that parents who chose to keep their students home will be given the option to allow them to test on a district-by-district basis.

Commonly, tests like the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium exams, Washington’s statewide summative assessments, have been used to measure student growth in core subjects like math and literacy. But this year, the results will not be similarly used because of the difference in current teaching practices and the lack of 2019-2020 exam data. 

“We wouldn’t be able to use them to measure growth, because the circumstances are so completely different,” said Elizabeth Hamming, director of teaching and learning from the Lynden School District. “If we gave the assessments this year, they would tell us what students know. And they would also tell us what students haven’t mastered yet.” 

National studies show students are no longer hitting national math benchmarks and key data is missing on students from underserved communities across the country. 

And there seems to be a lot of need for that data. 

In fall 2020, OSPI asked districts to measure how students were doing academically and emotionally with the understanding that these two facets are interconnected. Without ensuring the social-emotional health of the students, districts could not accurately measure academic learning. 

Paige Shumway, a language arts teacher at Meridian High school in Bellingham, said state assessments are not a priority for many educators.

“I would say that most teachers have been very challenged to get students to complete all remote work, and focusing on test preparation is not a priority during these trying times,” Shumway said.

From the beginning of the pandemic, connectivity issues became the most talked-about issue for many educators. From learning devices to internet access, many students lacked the necessary components to contact their teachers and join online classes. With the SBAC being an online exam, this continues to be a problem. 

“We have a lot of people around the agency who have been working to support the districts and getting the support to the students,” Hanczrik said about technology inequities. “Those equity issues are there. And they were there prior to March of 2020.”

Hanczrik explained that in order to ensure that the short time teachers have with their available students is not all about testing, the test itself was shortened.  

“This has been a phenomenal year for all states, including Washington to think about what kinds of innovative assessments could be developed, that would maybe eventually replace what we have right now,” Hanczrik said.

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