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State superintendent says he wants a smaller sample of students to take standardized tests

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal
Rachel La Corte
The Associated Press
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal

In a year of school disruptions due to the pandemic, the U.S. Department of Education said it wants students to take standardized tests as a way to measure the impact of COVID-19 on learning, but the department is giving states some flexibility.

State Superintendent Chris Reykdal told KNKX that he will likely ask the Department of Education for permission to test a much smaller sample of students. Instead of giving 700,000 kids the Smarter Balanced assessment, he wants to test 30,000 to 35,000 students. He said the state would work with researchers to make sure the testing group has enough students representing different populations.       

“We can get a robust sample size big enough that we can actually tell the impacts of all of this on different student groups with statistical significance, race, geography, who was open to in-person (instruction) versus who stayed remote,” Reykdal said.

Testing would likely take place in May or June and be done in person, he said. Reykdal said the state would prepare for some families to opt out of the testing and would calculate for that as it identifies students to test. He said the districts should provide transportation and meals for children who do the exams and should communicate with families that the results will not be used in a punitive way.

The federal government’s decision to proceed with standardized testing during a year when many students have been learning from home or have only been attending school on a hybrid schedule has drawn criticism. Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman of New York, who is vice chair on the House Committee on Education and Labor, said it’s a mistake and a misuse of resources and instructional time.

“The pandemic created the world’s largest education crisis. All students were impacted, but we know which students took the hardest hit,” Bowman said in a statement. “Testing isn’t revealing anything new; instead, it wastes time.”

Reykdal said testing a sample of students instead of whole grade levels across the state will help identify which groups of kids need the most help academically and bringing in a smaller number of students will be more manageable, given the need to maintain physical distancing.

He said assessments have value, but there are problems with the way the federal government mandates that standardized testing be carried out.

“We need to understand whether our education system is creating equitable opportunities, and we kind of know that it doesn’t,” he said. “I just have never liked the idea that you have to test every single student in certain grades every single year because I do believe the test has some issues, and more importantly, it doesn’t really tell me very well whether my third grader learned a year’s worth of material by fourth grade. It tells me year over year whether last year’s third-graders are the same as this year’s third-graders.”

As for measuring individual student progress, Reykdal said school districts should do their own assessments of students' math, science and English language arts progress and share the results with families.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.