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Does It Hurt Children to Measure Pandemic Learning Loss?

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Others go further, arguing that regardless of what terminology is used, standardized testing to measure the impact of the pandemic is unnecessary or even actively harmful. Voices as prominent as the former New York City schools chancellor, Richard Carranza, and the Massachusetts Teachers Association, the state’s largest educators’ union, have encouraged parents to opt their children out of state tests during the pandemic. “We do not want to impose additional trauma on students that have already been traumatized,” Mr. Carranza said.

This week, the nation’s largest school system, in New York City, announced that parents would have to opt their children in to state standardized testing, which could lead to a smaller group of students taking the exams, and results that will be difficult to interpret.

Jesse Hagopian, a Seattle high school teacher and writer, said testing to measure the impact of the pandemic misses what students have learned outside of physical classrooms during a year of overlapping crises in health, politics and police violence.

“They are learning about how our society works, how racism is used to divide,” he said. “They are learning about the failure of government to respond to the pandemic.”

Mr. Hagopian said he believed that “learning loss” research was being used to “prop up the multi-billion-dollar industry of standardized testing” and “rush educators back into classrooms before it’s safe to do so.”

Some of the recent research has been conducted by outfits that create and license academic assessments, but other research has been led by independent scholars. Both types of studies show some students are struggling.

A preliminary national study of 98,000 students from Policy Analysis for California Education, an independent group with ties to several large universities, found that as of late fall, second graders were 26 percent behind where they would have been, absent the pandemic, in their ability to read aloud accurately and quickly. Third graders were 33 percent behind.

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