2021 | Opinion

Opinion: Amid concerns about learning during pandemic, let’s re-examine testing

Instruction time should take precedence over assessment

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Given the vast disruptions caused by the pandemic, MCPS’s decreases in the percent of students meeting the district’s Evidence of Learning benchmarks are not entirely surprising.

Students experienced a reduction in number of lessons and content covered as instruction was virtual for most of the 2020-21 school year, with only four days of synchronous instruction.

Even if these outcomes seem predictable, I appreciate the value of assessment data. I’ve co-edited a book on how data can be used not just for accountability, but to inform and improve instruction.

But as a parent whose child lost valuable instructional time during the pandemic, I am concerned that the testing schedule in Montgomery County Public Schools is not designed to maximize benefits.

For a week recently, my eighth-grader took the Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessment every single day — during nearly four hours of instructional time that was set aside for testing.

If this school year follows last year’s testing timelines, MAP will be administered again in winter and spring for both elementary and middle school students. Students will also take state assessments in both fall and spring this school year, and district assessments throughout the year.

While I can appreciate wanting to track the progress of students receiving interventions, I can’t understand why we are requiring every student to take so many different assessments in a year when maximizing instructional time is more critical than ever.

The district could streamline the assessment schedule without sacrificing valuable information.

While the fall administration of MAP provides timely data for the purpose of informing instruction and intervention for the current school year, it is hard to see similar value in administrating MAP to all students in winter and spring.

The winter administration of MAP might facilitate mid-course corrections, but teachers may be able to use district assessments to determine whether interventions are succeeding in getting students back on track.

The spring administration of MAP has limited value for informing teaching, since most students receive minimal instruction between May and September. Furthermore, it overlaps with state testing, which is better suited to addressing questions of whether students mastered grade-level content.

I encourage MCPS to gather feedback from educators, parents, and students to inform refinements to the overall assessment system. Teachers can provide insight on when to assess and which assessments are best suited to informing day-to-day instruction and targeting interventions.

Parent focus groups could inform the development of consistent assessment communication policies that help families understand their child’s relative strengths and weaknesses. For example, parents may find MAP’s student profile report, which describes how students performed in different instructional areas, more informative than the summative score.

Students themselves can provide insight on how to design an assessment system that improves motivation and minimizes stress and anxiety.

Drawing on our collective knowledge, the district can re-envision the accountability system to more efficiently and effectively support our students’ learning.

Cara Jackson lives in North Bethesda and is an education researcher. She worked for the Montgomery County Public Schools Office of Shared Accountability from 2016 to 2018. She served from 2015 to 2018 on a Task Force on Assessment Education for NWEA, the company that created the Measures of Academic Progress assessment.

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