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State-Mandated Testing: A Crucial Tool for Academic Recovery?

State-Mandated Testing: A Crucial Tool for Academic Recovery?

Years after school buildings reopened following COVID-19 closures, an overwhelming majority of public school leaders (92%) are concerned to some extent about their students meeting academic standards, according to data from the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES). Out of those, 25% said they are moderately concerned, and 16% said they are extremely concerned.

Approximately two-thirds of public school leaders “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed that they support the use of state-mandated testing for math (62%) and English language arts and literacy (66%). About three-quarters “somewhat” or “strongly” agreed that the assessments provide useful data to bolster instruction — 74% for math and 75% for ELA.

However, about 67% of public school leaders said math and ELA testing will not accurately measure the ability of students with individualized education plans or who are English learners.

The pandemic’s negative impact on academics has been well-documented, most notably through a significant decline in national assessment scores. However, state assessment data and studies on testing performance suggest that students are beginning to rebound.

Testing and academic experts have warned, however, that a full rebound is still multiple years away. That sentiment was echoed by administrators in the NCES survey, a third of whom believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will have a “large negative impact” on their students’ performance on state-mandated testing this school year.

“We know that the job of public school leaders has become increasingly complex and there is a constellation of challenges that keep them up at night,” said NCES Commissioner Peggy G. Carr in an April 16 statement. “It’s a Herculean task to manage all these challenges, and we hope that understanding what school leaders are facing will identify essential areas of support.”

More than 40% of administrators said they “somewhat agree” or “strongly agree” that “the work we will do to prepare our students for the state-mandated [subject] test will take time away from other more important classroom work.”

Still, administrators’ attitudes toward state-mandated testing as a way to bolster instruction stand in stark contrast to speculation during the pandemic that educators would move away from standardized assessments and replace them with through-year or performance-based assessment models.

While a majority of educators supported state-mandated assessments to some degree in the NCES survey, others have suggested a shift away from the annual end-of-year exams.

At least 13 states are exploring through-year assessment models, according to a January 2024 update from the Center for American Progress. Those states include Louisiana, Florida, Texas, and Montana. Through-year assessment models have emerged as an alternative to end-of-year exams, with a quicker turnaround time for results and a better ability to inform educators of student progress.

Last year, the U.S. Department of Education gave Montana the green light to replace its existing statewide, federally mandated annual assessment with a through-year assessment beginning in the 2024-25 school year. The aim of the high-profile decision was to ”advance student academic achievement, especially in the context of the urgent work of academic recovery post-pandemic,” Adam Schott, deputy assistant secretary for policy and programs in the department’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education, said at the time.

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