Vermont Association for Middle Level Education
Our statement on standardized testing:
Vermont Association for Middle Level Education Statement on the use of Student Standardized State Tests During the 2020 – 2021 Academic Year
We, the executive board members of the Vermont Association for Middle Level Education (VAMLE), wish to note our professional opposition to the administration of the annual Vermont Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) this Spring. Our responsibility as VAMLE Board members and as middle level educators and researchers is to promote best practice based on our mission: "VAMLE’s mission is to inform and guide all stakeholders dedicated to making education relevant and successful for Vermont’s 10-15 year olds." Our opposition is grounded in research-based knowledge and facts of the current academic environment noted in the points listed below.
We believe that school attendance restrictions alone this year prohibit typical student academic gains when compared to a traditional instructional delivery system of students attending school for approximately 150 days prior to test administration dates. It is likely that students’ actual attendance this year is closer to half of that time (75 – 80 days) based on the hybrid models of attendance schedules for many school districts throughout the state.
The quintessential component of learning is direct, immediate, and constant feedback that students receive from face-to-face interactions with teachers throughout a school day. These interactions are severely reduced when teaching and learning occur via virtual formats. Students are asking fewer questions and have revealed in interviews (Brown, 2020) that they desire more teacher feedback about their learning and greater opportunities to ask questions that don’t believe exist in their current virtual learning experiences. Many students are uncomfortable learning in the electronic formats, particularly young adolescents who often lack the verbal skills and confidence as learners to engage in the type of public discourse needed in virtual learning. Failure to receive immediate feedback prevents students from making timely academic gains as they would in a traditional learning format.
A high percentage of students are not visible during class while they are learning virtually. Many teachers have no idea whether students are actually focused on learning or even in the same room as their computers while class is occurring. A percentage of students across the state also lack broadband access—severely limiting their school “attendance” each day. How could any external standardized test data this year demonstrate the kind of growth all expect in a traditional academic year?
Students of all ages have experienced an unprecedented level of anxiety and stress associated with being away from school this year: anxiety about how they will be affected by COVID; about how their family members have been affected by COVID; more exposure to social media without conversations with someone other than their family members about how social media causes perhaps even more stress for them; fewer outlets for alleviating stress—no extracurriculars, fewer daily in-school classes such as music, band, theater, family and consumer science due to fewer days in school. Stress and anxiety have a particularly negative effect on adolescent students’ learning (Jensen, 2015). Bringing students into school to take the state tests will likely create another level of stress that affects their cognitive abilities, and thus, their test performance.
Many students who are primarily at home half of the school week are experiencing stressors that they’ve never had to put up with in a traditional educational environment--food insecurity, possible family dysfunction, homelessness, limited parental (adult) oversight—factors that come with much fewer than the traditional 180 days at school rather than at home.
One purpose of collecting test data is to ascertain the growth of students throughout two thirds of an academic year (tests given in March or April). Data from this year’s tests would not demonstrate typical growth due to the limited days in school for all students. Plus, the younger students are and the greater academic challenges that students have, the more guidance they need. All scores are likely to be considerably lower, but particularly those of students with greater learning challenges.
It is clear from a pedagogical perspective that external standardized testing of students will serve no purpose other than to reveal the obvious—students have suffered socially, emotionally, academically, and for many, even physically this year due to the learning conditions created by the pandemic. We, as middle level educators, understand young adolescents’ developmental processes; and it is clear from students’ voices that they are highly affected this year in ways that no one could have predicted due to the pandemic.
The purpose of any legislatively produced educational policy is to either improve students’ learning or to help teachers in their pedagogical responsibilities (become better educators). Standardized testing seldom, if ever, meets those two critical criteria in a traditional academic year—testing certainly won’t improve students’ lives this year.
Our suggestions for improving students’ lives this year are to use the money usually reserved for testing protocols to
• hire additional counselors at all academic levels to assist students with their increased anxiety and stress;
• place the funds into infrastructure to build broadband access for more Vermonters;
• hire more teachers in lower socioeconomic communities to provide more and better support for those students;
• hire more teachers’ aides to assist those students with special needs.
We believe that the role of state education policy is to promote and create greater equity for all so as to improve the academic lives of all K – 12 Vermont students. This is a year when external standardized student testing data will likely reveal considerable deficits in student learning this past academic year—results that are painfully obvious to those professional educators on the front lines each day. Collecting these test data in this traditional manner serves no useful or valuable purpose this year. We call on the Agency of Education and the state legislative bodies to order a suspension of these tests this year in the best interests of students, caregivers, and our state’s professional educators.
VAMLE’s mission is to inform and guide all stakeholders dedicated to making education relevant and successful for Vermont’s 10-15 year olds. Middle level educators recognize that young adolescents are in transition between childhood and adolescence, and require programs and practices built on their specific needs.
The VAMLE Annual Conference is held each year in March, and brings together teams of middle level students and educators from across Vermont. The goal of the conference is to develop student leadership in planning for school change. A keynote speaker opens the conference, followed by workshops that offer strategies for combatting bullying and building a culture of respect and inclusion.