Biden Says 2021 Standardized Tests Still Required — But There’s a Catch

The Biden administration is relying on standardized tests to collect data about learning loss. People aren't super pleased.

Originally Published: 
A standardized test bubble sheet with a pencil

On Monday, February 22, the Biden administration announced that despite the pandemic, states across the country must give students federally mandated standardized tests this year. The move to reinstate testing after some students have been learning remotely for at least over an entire school year will likely be met with criticism. But, the news that standardized tests will have to be held this year obviously has more to it than meets the eye.

Here’s What Biden’s Announcement Means

The Biden administration’s decision to require schools to administer federally mandated standardized tests is seen by some as one of the first big, hard, and likely unpopular decisions by the administration. But the admin seems keen on giving educators and administrators some leeway. The tests can be shorter, administered remotely, or even given on a delayed schedule. Still, the tests will represent an organizational challenge as schools will have to figure out how, exactly, to administer these tests safely and in an environment that is remotely close to what it would be in a normal, in-person school session.

That’s why the Biden administration’s requirement looks like it’s going to give schools a ton of leeway, with shorter tests, remote testing, or even pushing the testing back into the start of the 2021 school year. What seems important, however, is that the Biden administration gets testing data by the beginning of 2022.

“We do not believe that if there are places where students are unable to attend school safely in person because of the pandemic that they should be brought into school buildings for the sole purpose of taking a test,” said Ian Rosenblum, the acting assistant education secretary, of the move to require testing data.

While that’s all well and good, it may run right in the face of the plans of states themselves. At least seven states from California to Illinois to Michigan to New York, among others, had already planned to not hold standardized testing this year, marking the second year in a row where kids wouldn’t have to sit for standardized tests. Other states, like Florida, Indiana, and Texas, had planned on holding testing no matter what the Biden administration did. It’s unclear whether states will be able to opt-out of testing or if they will be required to hold it in some form under the Biden declaration.

Why Are They Requiring It?

The Biden administration is putting a lot of emphasis on the testing data to help provide at least part of a picture of how much learning has been lost during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It is urgent to understand the impact of COVID-19 on learning,” said Rosenblum, according to ChalkBeat. He also noted, “To be successful once schools have reopened, we need to understand the impact COVID-19 has had on learning and identify what resources and supports students need.”

It looks like the testing data is really just about data collection, to see what schools may need more resources, what schools have struggled the most, what areas students are struggling in as a result of the pandemic, and more.

What Are Critics Saying

Standardized testing has long been a hot-button issue among educators, union leaders, and politicians, and the pandemic has made that debate no less fraught.

Union leaders like Randi Weingarten, the President of the American Federation of Teachers, suggested that the focus on testing is a waste of time. “We have always known that standardized tests are not the best way to measure a child’s development,” she said in response to the Biden admin move.

Holding the tests — even with the flexibility of timing, how the test is held, and how long it is — will indeed be a logistical challenge, and some teachers think it’s just going to waste time that could simply be used for educating. And for those who had hoped that the pandemic, in general, would lead to a more holistic approach to education that didn’t rely on test-taking (the SAT being thrown out with the bathwater was a hopeful sign), there may be disappointment all around that the Biden admin is relying on a measure that often just reveals socioeconomic and racial lines, rather than a child’s growth, development, or aptitude.

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