Picture yourself cheering in the stands of Death Valley. The LSU QB approaches the line of scrimmage, barking out commands in preparation to run a play. As the clock ticks down, he fires a strike to a wide receiver over the middle, converting a key third down and keeping the drive alive.
What we don’t see amidst the screaming fans are the countless hours spent on preparation for that very play. The hours spent in the film room analyzing the opponent, building out a game plan, and preparing to execute it come game day. Without those hours of analysis, research and preparation, would that pass have been completed? Or would the quarterback have taken a sack, ruining the play?
Any self-respecting Tiger fan – myself included – would never tolerate an LSU coach who came to game day without a game plan. So why are we tolerating this approach when it comes to our kids?
For the future of our families, community, and country, nothing can possibly be more important than the success of our children. And so it is incumbent upon us to ask ourselves what opponents our kids face as we do everything in our power to ensure they live lives full of opportunity and promise. In today’s world, our arch-rival – in addition to the Tide and Nick Saban, obviously – is learning loss caused by the COVID-19 Pandemic. If we don’t closely analyze and research the ways the Pandemic has affected our kids, and come up with a foolproof plan to tackle learning loss into the dirt, this arch-nemesis will triumph over our community’s children for years – maybe even generations – to come. Said another way, a winning game plan can catapult our community forward and serve as a model of what’s possible when high expectations and matching effort confront the sobering challenges we face.
This is what’s at stake when we consider waiving testing requirements for another year at the hands of COVID-19. Thankfully, the Biden administration demonstrated its agreement last week when it told states to plan on holding testing this spring. This decision makes great strides in establishing the foundation we need to gather data that is essential to creating a game plan to defeat this rival. If we don’t know where our kids are academically, we can’t meet them where they’re at. Testing should not be a punitive tool used to target schools, but a mechanism for understanding how well our students are doing so that we have the information we need to give kids the support they need to be successful.
This is important in ordinary years, but it’s never been more critical to know where our kids stand than after this year of remote learning. Research by McKinsey & Co. estimated that the 2020-21 school year may result in Black students falling behind by 10.3 months of learning, Latino students by 9.2 months, and white students by 6 months. Students from low-income backgrounds will fall behind by more than a year compared to where they would have been in normal circumstances. The same study estimated that achievement gaps could grow by 15-20 percent this year. But if we don’t assess where our students are, we’ll never know for sure.
I touched on this above, but clarity here is essential. No one should be arguing in favor of punitive testing this year, where students are assigned scores that have an impact on graduation, or teachers are penalized for their students falling behind. That type of testing has no place in our schools after a year filled with so many challenges.
Instead, let’s use tests as a helpful diagnostic, to give school leaders and teachers the information they need to formulate a game plan for the year ahead that meets the moment and helps students catch up in areas where they’re falling behind the most. And, going forward, this data should be used as a starting point to judge how swiftly schools help their students close gaps exacerbated by the Pandemic.
As we look to the end of this school year and the start of the next one, schools that are collecting data, adapting their approaches, and developing programs based on the unique needs of their students post-Pandemic will be the ones who thrive.
Game-changing school and system leaders will invest in creative programming outside of what schools typically offer. Programs scaling effective and flexible tutoring, intensive summer remediation and accelerated studies, and extended school time all may need to be part of the solution, and all could be funded – at least in part – by the federal rescue packages currently being debated by Congress. But again – without understanding what interventions are actually needed, how can our state and local education leaders direct these programs effectively?
Local reports show that Louisiana is set to receive more than 1 billion dollars in already-approved federal emergency support for learning loss. While local school system leaders have a few ideas on how to spend these funds, wouldn’t additional information make these dollars go even further?