As COVID-19 expands and retracts across the country, schools are engaging in some vastly different learning environments than they are used to. Many schools are online only, and some are hybrid, but even the schools that have their full array of students have not returned to “normal.” The CDC and various state and district guidelines have all but ensured that school will look quite different for a while. For some, this truth begs the question: Is it fair to evaluate schools during this time?
After all, how can schools be held accountable for something they have no experience doing? This is a legitimate concern, but the answer to the above question is still a hard yes.
There is no scenario in which we should take a break from evaluating the progress of children and the effectiveness of schools.
The main problem with the idea that schools should be given a reprieve from any type of evaluation is the fact that evaluation is not actually about the school … it’s about the students. Yes, schools are the most appropriate and convenient way for the government to evaluate progress and track students, but ultimately, the question we are trying to answer is “How are the children?” At no point should we stop asking that question no matter what is going on.
It is probably a tough pill to swallow given how different everything is, but that is actually the reason we should be tracking. Nobody has any real idea about how far students have slid behind during the extended coronavirus summer. Some schools will likely track that with their own in-house assessments when students return, but why should it be a secret? Tax-paying citizens are still paying money for education, and they have a right to know how the students and schools are doing like any other publicly funded entity.
E-learning being different also gives another incentive to evaluate schools for research. Some schools have undoubtedly come up with some systems and practices that should be replicated everywhere and without the illumination of data those best practices will stay isolated.
The topic of school evaluation always causes controversy, and a lot of that has to do with the fact that people conflate its meaning. Evaluation, accountability, and punishment are not synonyms for one another; yet, we frequently use them as if they are. To be fair, some districts act as if they are which doesn’t help the cause of gathering data.
To be clear: We should not be punishing schools for what the evaluations say. There should be no punitive measures attached to circumstances beyond the control of a school administrator. We shouldn’t do that ever but especially not now. Figuring out gaps and closing schools or cutting funding aren’t actions that inherently must go together; save that conversation for another day.
I teach in a low-income area. My school is the definition of “inner-city” and depends heavily on funding, and our test scores are especially important to us. If my kids took a test today, I am quite positive that I would not be “happy” with the results. With that being said, I will be giving my kids a diagnostic exam because I need that data to teach effectively. My school knows this, and other schools should know this too.
No, we shouldn’t be slapping letter grades on school doors. No, we shouldn’t be firing principals or triggering “take-overs.” But if the students are way behind, hiding that from policy makers or district administrator doesn’t change the situation. It may actually prevent them from getting the extra help and funding they need.
I’m not sure what effective evaluation looks like in this context, but we should be open to knowing where we stand.