Do States Care If Their Tests Are Useful?
They sure don't act like it
There’s a bit of circular logic going on around state assessments these days. The argument goes something like this:
State test results are not useful to parents or educators;
Because state test results are not useful to parents or educators, it doesn’t matter when states share the results.
I’ve been seeing this line of reasoning a lot lately. In an unrelated blog post last week, Scott Marion and Will Lorie from the National Center for Assessment casually dropped the line that state test results are, “not useful for improving instruction.”
This echoes recent comments by Ted Fisher, the director of communications for the Vermont Agency of Education. In explaining why Vermont was more than a year late to release the results of its 2022 state assessment, Fisher fell back on the lack of value for parents.
Dale Chu rightfully called this “a shortsighted and mealy-mouthed argument!”
Thanks for reading On Education ! Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support my work.
Success Academy’s Eva Moskowitz took to the pages of the NY Daily News this weekend to call out the problem with the lack or urgency around sharing state test results:
This delay is unconscionable. However imperfect, standardized tests provide critical objective information about student achievement. Teachers need to know how their students are doing; principals need to know how their teachers are doing; superintendents need to know how their principals are doing; public-school boards need to know how their schools are doing; and parents need to know how their children are doing.
However, the state Education Department is robbing this information of much of its utility by delaying its release. If I have a school that is lagging far behind the others, I need to make changes during the summer so we can enter the next school year with a plan to address them. But since we didn’t get results until September, and won’t get comprehensive comparative results until December, we lacked this important data going into this school year.
Neither did we have objective data in time to determine which students should attend summer school, or which teachers or principals should be fired, rehired or promoted.
Moskowitz is making this point as the leader of a network of public charter schools. She wants the data from state test results and would like to put the data to use! State test results are useful—or would be—if the state could deliver them in a timely fashion.
State test results are too d*mn slow
As I’ve written before, state test results are simply too slow right now. Most state tests are administered in April or May. The graph below shows when states released the results of their 2022 and 2023 tests to the public. Each dot represents one state and the date they released their results. The blue dots are for 2022, and the orange dots are for 2023 so far. The results for 2023 are coming out slightly faster than they did for 2022, but not much.
As a reference point, the chart also includes dotted horizontal lines for August 1 and September 1. Although school start dates vary across and within states, these lines are intended as rough proxies for when the following school year starts.
As the graph shows, here in 2023, only five states released their results in June or July, in advance of the new school year. Another 14 released results in August, just before or right around the start of the new year. But that means 31 states and the District of Columbia had not released their results by the beginning of September.
The question of whether state tests are useful or not is wrapped up in the amount of time it takes to deliver the results. If the results come back too slow, then sure, they won’t be very useful. But that’s a problem of timing, not something innate to the tests themselves.