PSA: The PSAT is Tuesday.
The Preliminary SAT, a test used to qualify sophomores and juniors for the National Merit Scholarship, will draw up to 2,000 Clark County School District students into school buildings for the first time since March.
It’s the first in-person test of a spring testing season that will pose a particular challenge to a district still in full-time distance learning and to schools, which only recently received permission to bring back small groups of students in the near future.
Approximately 40 high schools will offer the test to 11th graders Tuesday after October test dates were canceled, with 25 to 50 students expected at each, according to the district. School Organizational Team meetings have indicated that the assessments will be held in large, open areas such as school gyms, with doors open to the outside. Social distancing and masks are a must.
The PSAT is not a required test, but it will gauge schools’ readiness for mandatory testing this spring, including in their facilities and the willingness of their staff to serve as proctors.
Beginning in February, students will sit for a number of other tests: the Smarter Balanced assessment (SBAC), Nevada Science Assessments and the Nevada Alternate Assessment. The ACT — a state requirement for graduation — is scheduled for Feb. 23.
Federally mandated assessments were waived last spring as the COVID-19 pandemic began, but former Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos said in a September letter to state school officers that they should not expect another such waiver for the 2020-21 school year.
‘A critical tool’
Incoming Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona has not spoken out publicly about reversing or upholding that guidance, and the U.S. Department of Education’s Press Office did not have additional information by deadline.
If a waiver were made available, Superintendent Jhone Ebert has indicated that she would pursue it, said Jessica Todtman, spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Education.
Still, Todtman said the department believes tests serve a purpose.
“Assessments are a critical tool in advancing equity and results provide educators, students, and families with information necessary to track progress and offer supports and interventions,” Todtman said.
Todtman added that the department weighed whether remote and in-person tests could deliver “valid, reliable, and comparable results,” and ultimately determined that the results of remote tests would not provide “the most useful information to educators, students, and families.”
All federally required assessments will be administered on-site, with additional guidance on safely doing so expected in early February for districts and charter schools, Todtman said. The SBAC testing window has already been extended, she added.
Students have taken other virtual assessments this year, including Measure of Academic Progress tests in the fall and winter. Fall results indicated math scores for students in fourth through eighth grades fell short of the national expected proficiency rates, but that reading scores came in around the national rate.
A winter round of results is due imminently.
‘A mixed message’
Testing this year is far from universally popular. Some educators have raised questions about the validity of testing results during an unusual school year, when students don’t have the benefit of full-time, in-person instruction to prepare, and at-home assessments can’t be monitored.
Indian Springs teacher Alexis Salt said she believes this year’s assessments will offer a measurement of socioeconomic privilege and little else, rewarding students who have had reliable connectivity and a support system at home and punishing those who haven’t.
Even among students who have had access to both, high-stakes testing creates a pressure that can exacerbate students’ anxiety and other mental health concerns, she noted.
Salt said she’s worried that moving forward with testing is brewing resentment among students, who have lost nearly a year’s worth of school activities and traditions, but haven’t won a reprieve from testing.
”It sends a mixed message: It’s too dangerous to be with a group of your friends, or to get batting practice in, but it’s safe enough to take the ACT,” she said.
“We’re centering this conversation (about reopening) on mental health,” she said, “and yet the main thing we’re talking about welcoming kids back to school for is testing.”