In this excellent article, Stephanie Jones, Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Georgia, draws a contrast between a real crisis–the pandemic–and the scare rhetoric of children “falling behind” in some mythical race. The only beneficiaries of the fake crisis are the testing corporations.

Jones writes:

Some crises are real and extremely difficult to prevent and respond to, like a highly contagious virus that is easily spread throughout communities. Other crises are human-created, easily preventable and also easily eliminated, like worrying about what students’ test scores in reading and math will be when they return to school.

Almost any teacher will tell you that the current tool of choice to attempt to measure student learning and teacher effectiveness – high-stakes testing – has distorted the purposes and possibilities of public education beyond recognition. Decades of research on assessment and testing back-up and validate their perceptions of tests, painting a very clear picture that high-stakes testing does extensive damage and provides very little helpful information.

This is critical for all of us (parents, community members, educators, leaders) to remember in this moment because we are hearing more crisis language about students “falling behind” during the pandemic school closures. But this particular “crisis” is only possible in a world of high-stakes testing. In other words, the tool that humans have created and continue to use to try to measure student learning created this crisis of falling behind.

Take for example the alarmist tone and language of the recent editorial essay in The New York Times “The Coronavirus’s Lost Generation of Children” (the original headline on Twitter) and similar pieces that weaponize the very language and metaphors tied to testing and have been used to dehumanize education for 20 years. Words they use — setbacks, losses, grim, disastrous, catastrophic, “hobble an entire generation,” aggressive remedial plans — are irresponsible and panic-inducing during our country’s biggest health, economic, and social crisis in a lifetime. These words also spin the ideological web that education is a race. One obvious problem with a race metaphor is that some people win races and some people lose races, which also means that some people are “ahead” in the race and some people will always be “behind.”

Please open the link and read the piece in its entirety.

Bear in mind that standardized tests are normed on a bell curve and the bell curve never closes. The gap is a social construction that guarantees there will always be a top half and a bottom half.