Two phrases much in the news are “learning loss” and “achievement gaps.” We read frequently that at the K-12 level, the pandemic has contributed to a significant erosion of knowledge and skills and greatly exacerbated disparities in reading and math proficiencies on the basis of race, ethnicity, and socioeconomic status.
The reported losses are, according to some reports, staggering. For example, one organization reported that more than half of 3rd and 8th graders in predominantly Black and Latino schools are two or more years behind grade level.
If this is indeed true, the long-term consequences for those students and society as a whole are extremely scary.
Last year, The New York Times reported that controversy had erupted over whether “It Hurt Children to Measure Pandemic Learning Loss.” The article quoted a number of experts who worried that reports of learning loss threatened to stigmatize an entire generation.
Not surprisingly, most of the article’s readers’ comments defended grade-level testing as an essential diagnostic tool. As one mother put it, “I honestly have no idea how my child is doing. I know his grades, but COVID openly changed what grades look like. I need the metric of testing to know how much trouble, if any, we are in.”
Many of the comments also expressed snide anti-teachers’ union snark, quoting, with disdain, union leaders’ comments. As one reader put it: “Teachers and administrators claim that ‘a focus on what’s been lost could incite a moral panic’; that testing is ‘unnecessary or even actively harmful’, may ‘impose additional trauma on students that have already been traumatized’ and ‘misses what students have learned outside of physical classrooms’.”
There were, however, some contrary reader responses. Here was one of the most striking:
“The kids are alright, even if they may not temporarily measure up to somebody’s arbitrary standards. Striver parents are freaking out because they are afraid they cannot check all the boxes they need to get their kids into a college that they can brag to other parents about like. Heaven forbid these kids get off the treadmill for a year and get to goof off a bit. … Kids are learning stuff in school which will be obsolete in a decade, but the lessons they are learning about their own strength in just getting through this pandemic will serve them well into the future.”
Achievement testing has clearly become yet another wedge issue in a deeply divi
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