New: HSC Policy Memo on Rethinking Educational Assessments

March 31, 2022 | Written By:

Photo by Allison Shelley for EDUimages

Academic testing, which was largely put on hold during the pandemic, is starting up again. This week, nearly 600,000 fourth- and sixth-graders across the country took reading and math tests as part of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. It’s predicted that student scores will show a decline.

We know, however, that test scores are not the only measure of student outcomes.

Healthy Schools Campaign has long advocated for educational assessments to include measures that enable states and districts to assess whether health and wellness are integrated into the fiber of the educational environment.

This type of expanded assessment, which affirms that all students are deserving of a safe environment that supports their physical and mental wellbeing, has taken on additional relevance over the past two years, particularly as some states and school districts paused traditional assessments following the shift to online learning during COVID-19.

A new HSC policy memo, “Rethinking Educational Assessments to Support the Whole Child,” considers the historical nature of academic assessments and offers recommendations for a comprehensive approach that more accurately represents student needs and successes. The memo also looks closely at the impact that both the pandemic and the 2020 social protests have had on student mental health – and how these challenges are changing the conversation around assessments.

With a variety of complexities related to teaching and learning, education advocates argued for and against requiring educational assessments during the 2020-21 school year. Some stakeholders contended that assessments would cause additional undue stress and trauma for teachers and students already facing unprecedented challenges; others maintained that assessing students is critical to understanding and quantifying the most critical needs.

The debate over traditional assessments presents an important opportunity to address the inadequacies of relying solely on academic assessments to characterize and represent educational outcomes. HSC argues in favor of incorporating more integrative assessments, particularly around school climate and social-emotional wellness. The memo offers multiple examples of survey tools designed to gauge student engagement, school climate and student wellbeing.

These types of assessments also encourage states, districts and schools to target interventions to improve equity for student populations that have suffered greater learning loss and are experiencing greater social and emotional needs. By incorporating more integrative assessments, education leaders can better grasp a true baseline of where students are and their ongoing progress at the individual and aggregate levels.

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