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Guest Commentary: COVID-19 set Colorado students back. Tests will tell us how much.

State testing of Colorado’s public school students may be on the chopping block again this year.

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For the sake of our children and their future, we cannot allow this to happen.

The COVID-19 pandemic has upended our lives and our economy, and the impact on Colorado’s schoolchildren has been (and continues to be) tremendous. Despite the best efforts of teachers, schools, and parents, there is little doubt that online and hybrid learning models are creating gaps for students across our state.

Worse, school closures have a disproportionate impact on children in poverty, many of whom are unable to access online learning, likely exacerbating existing achievement gaps.

Researchers at McKinsey & Company recently created a statistical model that estimates U.S. students will lose an average of 7 months of learning due to the pandemic, with low-income students expected to lose over 12 months. According to the research, these losses could translate to a lifetime earnings reduction of $61,000 to $81,000. As alarming as these numbers are, the model assumes that in-person learning resumes in January. With each passing day, that seems less and less likely.

How bad will the actual learning losses be in Colorado? We need to know. State testing in the spring will be challenging, to be sure. Many argue that schools cannot afford to lose even more instruction time and that the strain put on already overtaxed schools and
teachers is too much.

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There are also concerns about test results being used to judge the performance of teachers and schools when the reality is that no one was fully prepared for the sudden shifts to online learning or teaching in conditions that we never could have imagined a
year ago.

Finally, with the uncertainty of the pandemic, it is unclear how we would test potential remote learners.

As an education leader, I share all of these concerns — even in a normal year, state testing is not a process any of us look forward to. Like many, I worry that the current assessment is overly complex and takes away too much instruction time. We need to have discussions about assessment in Colorado, and when we do, I will be first in line to participate.

However, today is not the time. Today, we need to think about the concern that really matters — the future of Colorado’s children.

The old adage “knowledge is power” is more applicable than ever in today’s data-centric world.

One cannot have knowledge without data. And we need the data. We need to know what lockdowns, school closures, and learning disruptions have cost our kids. Most importantly, we have to know where our kids are in order to allocate our limited resources in a way that will put them on the path to catching up.

The results of state testing should not be used to judge teachers and schools. I would support waiving the teacher evaluation and school rating components of Colorado’s accountability system and even continuing to pause the accountability clock. I also recognize the complexity of testing remote learners.

Administering state testing will be challenging and imperfect, to say the least.

However, we need to collect the data so we can develop strategies and make targeted investments designed to move our kids forward. We need to take every action possible to mitigate learning losses and, by doing so, lessen long-term impacts to our children’s futures.

We have to know where we are to determine where we need to go. Yes, it will be difficult, but our children are worth it.

For me, not knowing is unacceptable, and a tremendous disservice to our kids.

Erin Kane is the founder and executive director of American Academy, a K-8 charter school with three campuses in Douglas County. She spent two years serving as interim superintendent for Colorado’s third-largest school district.

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