Is Canceling “High Stakes Testing” More Important than Halving Childhood Poverty?

Joseph Stiglitz, a Nobel Prize winning economist , calls our nation “a beacon of failure,”

“The U.S., with its cherished image as a land of opportunity, should be an inspiring example of just and enlightened treatment of children. Instead, it is a beacon of failure,”

“Though an average American childhood may not be the worst in the world, the disparity between the country’s wealth and the condition of its children is unparalleled.”

Our childhood poverty rate is 19.9 percent, the highest among all developed countries, except Romania.

President Johnson’s “War On Poverty” offered hope; however the Republican Calvinist approach, “helping” the poor would only reinforce poverty, prevailed. 

The Biden initiative, the American Rescue Plan reverses half a century of ignoring the “truly disadvantaged” and offers hope for abandoned Americans.

 Nick Kristoff in the New York Times writes,

  Today one of our saddest statistics is this: American children ages 1 to 19 are 57 percent more likely to die than children in other rich countries.

Some of those kids die because the United States doesn’t provide universal health care to children — only to senior citizens, who vote and thus are a priority. Some die because the United States tolerates some of the highest child poverty rates in the industrialized world. And some die because the United States just doesn’t have programs to support children that are routine in Canada and Europe.

So the most historic part of the Biden agenda, to me, is a determined effort to invest in America’s kids and reverse decades of child neglect. Just as Franklin Roosevelt revolutionized conditions for the elderly by instituting Social Security, Biden may be able to do the same for children.

Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan included monthly child allowances and other elements that other countries have used to reduce child poverty. A Columbia University study estimated that these programs, if sustained, could reduce child poverty by about half.

An online conversation with a teacher, 

Me: “Biden’s American Rescue Act can actually cut childhood poverty rates in half, what an accomplishment   …”

Teacher: “I know, but Biden’s a terrible disappointment, he’s forcing schools to give standards tests, he lied to us ….”

I’m baffled ….

Standardized tests will take place over the next few weeks, they are NOT high stakes tests; they are NO stakes tests. The feds prohibited the use of the tests for any accountability purposes and students who are in a remote environment are effectively excluded from testing.

A little history: Why do we give standardized tests?

No Child Left Behind (2002), the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (1965), required annual testing in grades 3-8, and continued in the subsequent reauthorization, Every Student Succeeds Act (2015).

Wade Henderson, the leader of a coalition of over 200 civil rights organizations was the driving force behind required annual testing. The reason: to expose the achievement gaps between students with disabilities, English Language Learners and Black/Latinx children, in the law called “subgroups.” Schools have to report scores of subgroups separately from the whole school scores. Schools at the bottom of the state that do not show progress may be closed.  Some states (Florida) use the state scores as one metric to measure teachers.

There are schools that have high overall scores; however, subgroups are at the bottom of the state, the school is cited.

In other words the purpose of the tests is to spotlight schools, as Henderson has testified again and again, to use the sharp disparity in test results to drive policies. to drive funding and policy changes in low performing schools.

And yes, testing companies have made millions.

The Biden American Rescue Act will send billions of education dollars to states and the states will determine the allocation, with strict guidelines.

Weeks before the 2020 standardized testing COVID hit, schools moved to fully remote and the tests were cancelled.

Betsy De Vos, the Trump appointed Secretary of Education announced tests would not be cancelled in 2021. With the election of President Biden and the nomination of Miguel Cardona advocates called for postponing/canceling 2021 standardized tests.

On February 22, the new US Department of Education issued a guidance letter: standardized tests would NOT be cancelled; however, no accountability would be attached to the tests and states were given wide latitude in the administration of the tests. 

The Fordham Institute suggests moving the tests to the next school year,

So allow me to make a humble suggestion: States should shift the spring 2021 assessments to fall 2021 when schools reopen. This will allow them to compute those all-important student growth measures for the 2019–21 period, plus establish a baseline for student progress during the 2021–22 school year.

A recent study suggests other methods of measuring student growth, “Bridging the Covid Divide: How States Can Measure Student Achievement Growth in the Absence of 2020 Test Scores.” Washington D.C.: Thomas B. Fordham Institute (January 2021).

Instead of attacking Biden, attacking a president who is actually taking on the root cause of low achievement, poverty, we should be supporting the president and changing the debate to measure/assess student achievement without standardized tests.

In other words, how can school/leaders and teacher take ownership of school accountability?

There are a number of options to measuring student progress without standardized testing. Read a number of options here.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), referred to as the “nation’s report card,” uses sampling measures, tests random groups of students, and publishes student achievement data by state and by large urban school districts.

A Center for NYC Affairs at the New School University study, “A Better Picture of Poverty,” argues we must address levels of poverty,

Our goal: To identify New York City’s “truly disadvantaged” public schools. This is a concept brought forward by researchers at the Consortium on Chicago School Research (who expanded on the term by the renowned urban sociologist William Julius Wilson).

Some urban schools serve students and their families who face the heaviest misery and hardship imposed by poverty and family dysfunction, and these are typically in neighborhoods most bereft of the reserves of community “social capital” that can offset poverty’s worst effects …we devised a risk load instrument of 18 salient indicators from census data and other sources. We wanted to go beyond the yardsticks commonly used to measure poverty in the schools … students are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches, such familiar statistical brushes paint with strokes far too broad to be very useful. Instead, we concentrated on indicators of what can be called “deep poverty,” such as the percentage of the student body living in temporary or public housing, in the number of students’ families that have at some time faced allegations of child abuse or neglect, and adult educational attainments in the community served by the school.

Our risk load assessment also took account of each school’s own stability and viability, including data on school safety, turnover among administrators and classroom teachers, and student suspensions. We found the constellation of public schools plagued by persistent chronic absenteeism among their elementary-grade students closely correlates with schools bearing the largest total risk loads—those where poverty’s effects are most overwhelming for families, and for educators, too

Attacking the president is both foolish and suicidal.

The Democrats control the Congress by thin threads in each House, and we remember that Obama lost control of the Congress in 2010, two years after his groundbreaking victory, his presidency floundered.

Without congressional majorities in both houses we will fall back into the morass of waiting to see who prevails in the 2024 presidential.

We are at a moment in history, do we bicker among ourselves or come together, mend our differences, and fight for the changes this nation requires?

One response to “Is Canceling “High Stakes Testing” More Important than Halving Childhood Poverty?

  1. Franklin Schargel

    As always, I incisive analysis of a complex problem.


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