John Merrow writes:

Many on the left are raising a stink about the US Department of Education’s insistence on having states give their annual tests. Critics say it’s unfair because most students haven’t been in physical schools for about a year. These critics maintain that it’s unnecessarily stressful to test students now. However, their hysterical objections only serve to demonstrate that they fail to understand that standardized testing is one of the main drivers of the US economy.

Please consider these economic consequences of canceling machine-scored tests. (I am certain that Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen could enumerate others.)

Canceling standardized tests will endanger the health of students and teachers. Both test-prep and testing are natural environments for social distancing; students who are required to stay at their desks all day long are not at risk of either passing on or catching COVID. That’s a win-win that would be a loss if tests were cancelled.

Not testing will unsettle students, endangering their already shaky mental health. The rhythm of test-prep and testing is well-known and familiar to students. What could be better for students who have been trapped on Zoom for months than to have the familiar Zen-like peace-and-quiet of test prep and testing?

The companies that create, administer and process these tests are a vital cog in our national economy, employing thousands of men and women, who then spend their earnings in their communities, thus seeding local economies. Suppose our 13,000+ school districts were to cancel the (often) multi-million dollar contracts? That would devastate those companies and the lives of their employees.

Vital educational research will be jeopardized. The 400+ full-bore studies of “Learning Loss” would be useless without the results of this year’s mandated standardized tests. Although it’s a foregone conclusion that these studies will demonstrate the reality of “The Achievement Gap,” those headlines will enable us to continue the practice of not having to capitalize either opportunity and expectations gaps, meaning that we can continue to pretend they are not real.

Canceling testing will overturn lives. Somewhere between 175 and 3500 doctoral students are close to finishing their dissertations on “Learning Loss.” Without data from this spring’s state tests, they will be unable to complete their theses, unable to sit for their oral exams, and unable to qualify for their doctoral degrees. This will mean an additional year of graduate school tuition and hardship for the struggling families of the graduate students, who may also have to postpone child-bearing for another year. Heartbreak and even divorce loom on the horizon for many of these families….if state testing is cancelled.

Canceling testing will endanger the health of universities. Pre-COVID, the focus on test prep and testing guaranteed that every year at least 100,000 teachers would get fed up and leave the profession for some other line of work. This created a perpetual ‘teacher shortage’ that university schools of education could rely on as they prepared their budgets. That is, they knew that school districts would have jobs for their graduates, and so they could aggressively recruit students and train them for classroom work.

Canceling testing will mean that teachers will actually be able to do what drew them into the field–help students learn and grow. This means that fewer teachers will give up on teaching, districts won’t have teacher shortages, university education programs will shrink, education faculty will lose their jobs, and lives will wither. All because we cancelled state standardized testing.

I will admit that some students (perhaps even all of them) would benefit from returning to a pressure-free school environment so they can get reacquainted with their peers. And I also acknowledge that some teachers (perhaps even all of them) should not have their worth determined by unreliable test scores. However, those are necessary sacrifices and small prices for students and teachers to pay because canceling testing will endanger our national economy.


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