The Gray Lady Backs School Testing

James Lane
Superintendent of Public Instruction

by James C. Sherlock

I wrote in a column not long ago that it will be impossible to create plans to make up for COVID-related learning losses if we cannot benchmark those losses and their subsequent mitigation.

I recommended standardized testing as the only readily available and proven way to take those measurements.

For most readers of this space, the concept that standardized testing (SOLs in the case of Virginia) is required this spring to establish a baseline for learning losses is simple common sense. For the national teachers unions and for much of the woke left, standardized testing is considered unfair to the poor, a vestige of systemic racism and a violation of dogma.

What is unfair to disadvantaged children is to mask their educational needs by burying the evidence.

That is why it is good to see that the editorial board of the New York Times, in this morning’s lead editorial, has written that we need standardized testing for benchmarking of learning losses.

(P)arents need to know where their children stand after such a sustained period without much face-to-face instruction. Given these realities, the new education secretary — whoever he or she turns out to be — should resist calls to put off annual student testing.

The Times, which considers every single thing a reason for federal action, is right in its instincts yet not fully focused on its targets.

Testing is something that Virginia and every state controls. States can be forced to test to receive federal education funding, as they are now for math and English reading and writing tests. But they cannot be mandated by the federal government to cancel testing.

The new federal COVID funds for schools should be used for measuring and mitigating COVID-related learning losses before they are used for anything else.

School boards will meet in every Virginia school district this month with the top of the agenda being learning losses. They need to know how they will benchmark the needs for mitigation in their districts and indeed in individual schools.

So waiting around to see if federal testing policy changes under a Biden administration, which it might under teachers union pressure, is not only not required; it is a mistake.

The Virginia Department of Education should immediately notify school districts that the full array of SOLs will be conducted in Virginia schools in the Spring.  They are owed that certainty so they can plan to help the most disadvantaged children among us.