Rep. Jamaal Bowman on Tuesday joined progressive education experts in criticizing the Biden administration's decision to mandate standardized testing in schools despite the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Bowman (D-N.Y.)—a former teacher and principal—argued that "prioritizing testing in the middle of the pandemic is a big mistake."
"It's a mistake that reflects a broader problem in American education," the first-term congressman said in a statement. "We have an obsession with arbitrary testing metrics above all else, even in the middle of a pandemic that's dislodged every facet of American life. We've forgotten that testing is one useful tool, and should not be the goal of education in and of itself."
"The pandemic created the world's largest education crisis," asserted Bowman. "All students were impacted, but we know which students took the hardest hit... We must empower educators to provide the best learning environment possible for students. This is not the time to waste time. Let's dive into action to fix the problems we already know exist."
Bowman's statement follows a letter sent Monday by acting Assistant Education Secretary Ian Rosenblum to state school superintendents informing them that the department will not invite state requests for "blanket waivers of assessments" required by the Every Student Succeeds Act, even though such waivers were granted last year due to the pandemic.
"It is urgent to understand the impact of Covid-19 on learning," the letter states. "We know... that some schools and school districts may face circumstances in which they are not able to safely administer statewide summative assessments this spring using their standard practices."
"It is clear that the pandemic requires significant flexibility for the 2020-2021 school year so that states can respond to the unique circumstances they are facing; keep students, staff, and their families safe; and maintain their immediate focus on supporting students' social, emotional, and academic development," the letter continues.
Progressive education experts, including Leonie Haimson, executive director of Class Size Matters and board member of the Network for Public Education, echoed some of Bowman's sentiments.
"Surprising and depressing that they would make this announcement before Miguel Cardona, appointed as secretary of education, even took office, in the midst of a pandemic," wrote Haimson. "If states have to give these exams remotely, watch out for the surveillance spyware schools will ask to install on your children's devices," added Haimson. "Best advice is to refuse and opt out of these exams altogether."
Mercedes Schneider, a career teacher and education reform advocate, said that "surveying district and state superintendents about what they need in order to provide equitable education opportunities for their students would be a much better use of U.S. Department of Education time and money than spending multiple millions on standardized tests."
"I have been teaching the better part of three decades, and I have yet for any parent to ask me for standardized test scores so that the parent can know how their children are doing," stressed Schneider. "They ask about grades on class assignments; they discuss specific skill areas that are challenging and ask for help with addressing the specific challenges arising from completing classroom assignments; they discuss supports needed when the children or other family members are facing health issues or other crises at home; they ask for assistance addressing behavior issues, but they never ask for standardized test scores out of a need to know how their children are doing."