• February 3rd, 2023
  • Friday, 10:47:56 AM

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Teaching and Learning Through a Pandemic


Brian Gibbs


Last week the Los Angeles Times reported that half of California students did not meet standards in Math and reading and, no one should care. The state shouldn’t care, the county shouldn’t care, the districts shouldn’t care, the schools shouldn’t care, the teachers shouldn’t care, the parents shouldn’t care, and most of all the students shouldn’t care. What they all should do instead is understand. They should all have a critical consciousness and have an awareness about what is happening in homes, schools, and communities, nation and worldwide. Research shows that tests being cited are meaningless measures of anything other than social class and familiar economic wealth. Regardless of that direction we hold fiercely to the notion that tests matter. They do not.


Through all this, our teachers are teaching, and our students are learning, regardless of what it says on a test.


Lani Guinier, the first woman of color to earn tenure at Harvard’s school of law indicated that the LSAT, long used to grant entrance into law schools is 7% better than random at predicting a student’s success in law school. K-12 standardized tests are even less predictive. Standardized tests indicate only the social class of the students taking the tests. They consistently show little else. Part of the problem here is how we look at and define the COVID crisis and quarantine. We are largely looking at this as a crisis yes, but something to be endured, something to pass. We are not addressing as a country what it truly is, an existential, psychic, and physical crisis. One that is showing us the cracks in the infrastructure and social fabric of our country. The quarantine has laid bare the who has and who does not. We need to understand and begin defining our COVID quarantine on a scale it deserves.


Little was cared about grades and test scores of students during World War I. Little was cared about grades and test scores of students during the Spanish Flu. Little was cared about grades and test scores during the Great Depression. Little was cared about grades and test scores during World War II. Of course, we did not collect, categorize and score schools on test scores in our past as we do now, but the metaphor still holds. Teaching happened. Learning happened. During, between and amongst great chaos and disruption learning happened. No one cared about their test scores. Without surprise children went on to have beautiful lives, attended trade schools, colleges, opened businesses, worked for the park service, became nurses and doctors, teachers and lawyers. If those students during those trying times had been tested, these tests which test so little, but claim so much would have indicated the children were grade levels behind and sounded a societal emergency. The problem was, they were already in an emergency, one greater than the test scores, because again, the test scores do not matter.


We are in a societal emergency. We need to say this out loud and act accordingly. Acting accordingly in our present day means getting vaccinated, listening to doctors and scientists, staying healthy through social distancing, and looking out for our friends and neighbors. In terms of schools, it means assuming that the teachers and administrators who are highly trained experts are educating our children and educating them well. This is being done in a time of tremendous budget cuts, teacher shortages, lack of respect for teachers and when some think teaching is suspect. The time of COVID and quarantine is a time of exhaustion and fear. We all live waiting for the other shoe to drop, for lockdown to be tightened, the need for another booster, the next variant. Through all this, our teachers are teaching, and our students are learning, regardless of what it says on a test.


This is our time to support students, educators, and schools. This is the exact wrong time to shame students, teachers and schools with test scores that mean little. What students need is a safe, warm, space to go each day where they are greeted by a kind and thoughtful adult who knows them, builds classroom community, reassures them and grows their skills and knowledge. This place, if you haven’t been to one, lately is a classroom. We need to be aware of the times we are in and understand that the conditions are not right to take much value in high stakes tests. This is a time to better understand schools and to better support educators. If the test scores indicate anything, and I mean anything, they argue for more robust school budgeting, a more expansive and creative curriculum, more trust in teachers and an understanding that our children are absolutely learning.



Brian Gibbs taught social studies in East Los Angeles, California for 16 years. He is currently a faculty member in the department of education at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.


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