An Assessment Q&A with Luke Ragland, President of Ready Colorado

In June, ten predominant Colorado education organizations authored a letter to state leadership highlighting the importance of diagnostic assessments as students begin their studies again in the fall. The groups noted that “it will have been 18 months since students were last tested with state assessments and it’s likely that schools don’t have a handle on where many students sit academically,” and it is an important tool for teachers “to understand where students are so they can best meet their needs.” President of Ready Colorado, Luke Ragland, virtually sat down with the Collaborative for Student Success to answer some questions on why assessing students is so critical during this unprecedented time.

Collaborative: Why is it important to test after the COVID instruction interruption?

Luke: American education has just been dealt a once-in-a-lifetime blow. Kids impacted by these school shutdowns will have lifelong consequences.  Studies have shown that when elementary students in other countries lost 80-90 days of instruction, those students were harmed permanently, including lower educational attainment and lower labor market earnings as adults. Considering this, we need to know which kids have fallen behind and how much they have fallen behind in order to make up for the lost time.

Collaborative: What are the consequences of not testing? Who will suffer the most?

Luke: Thomas Sowell said that “The first lesson of economics is scarcity: There is never enough of anything to satisfy all those who want it. The first lesson of politics is to disregard the first lesson of economics.”  If we need to allocate scarce resources to children who have been harmed by school closures, we need to know who those children are and how much they have been harmed.  Testing helps us identify how to best allocate scarce resources. Unfortunately, Dr. Sowell’s wisdom about politics applies here: Political forces are working overtime to block testing, and hence, disregard the interplay between information and scarcity.  In an information-poor environment, the neediest students will almost certainly receive the short end of the stick.

Collaborative: Can a back-to-school test provide quick results so that the findings can be incorporated into instruction this fall?

Absolutely. The test should be created and administered in a way that allows rapid results.

Collaborative: Is cost really the issue or is this a red herring?

Cost is always an issue, but I think it can be overcome.  The federal COVID relief funding provides several buckets of funding that could be used to create an off-the-shelf assessment for districts to use across the state.

Collaborative: What type of assessment should Colorado use at the beginning of the school year? Do you see a distinction between a diagnostic test and a curriculum-embedded assessment? Should CO administer the same assessment statewide or will there be variation across districts?

I think there is an opportunity to create a diagnostic test that is uniform across districts.  This would help create better apples-to-apples information for policymakers who need to devise creative ways to provide supplemental learning where it is needed most.