By Kevin Beckford

During these uncertain and unprecedented times, policymakers must pursue well-funded policies that allow our public education systems to adopt approaches that are responsive to the needs of students. Students across the nation deserve focused policy that does not penalize them for simply attending schools in districts that are ill-equipped and under-resourced to meet the challenging needs of this time. While districts and states struggle to set accountability measures, one thing remains clear: our schools need more money. As our federal elected officials contend with setting standards for states, they must recognize that significant federal financial investment in education is needed at this time.

Late February, the Biden administration made the decision not to allow states to cancel standardized testing. The administration’s policy has left room for flexibility, allowing for states to apply for a testing waiver and to not report the results of its accountability system immediately. More than likely, many states will understandably request extensions. But what happens when those extensions end? States and districts who have not met standards will face the challenge they once sought to avoid.

Our federal government must pay special attention to states that are at risk of not meeting accountability standards when these delays have timed out. It is imperative that federal policies financially support schools indicated by the Academic Achievement indicator for a participation rate below 95%, for example. 

Now more than ever, Congress should pursue and fund legislation that is responsive and innovative. Our schools are more likely to succeed when ambidextrous models are financed and implemented. Systems across the country are strained at this time, and outdated assessment schemes detract from our responsibility to meet the needs of students. We must make sure that our states are well-positioned to design assessments that reflect the realities of today, respond to the capacities of our schools across the nation, and more importantly, ensure that students receive the best education possible and advance. Unfortunately, many districts, notably those serving Black and Latinx students, are especially vulnerable to accountability structures that are not adequately funded and not holistically inclusive of all of the contributing factors that enable student success.

States across the nation are struggling to meet the learning needs of their students and therefore, our federal government must aim to legislate and support measures that holistically cater to the needs of students beyond assessment. Our legislators must make sure that students have the devices and internet service plans needed to learn in this complex learning landscape, just as they aim to ensure that schools have the instructional materials to meet standards. Congress should also aim to fund efforts to expand and make social-emotional learning more accessible to schools, students and families. They should support efforts that encourage Career Pathways and Career and Technical Education (CTE) programming, as such vital programs are no longer able to exist as they once had. 

As the Biden administration strives to ensure that schools are accountable to the students they serve, it is imperative that they work with our federal policymakers to support national and state efforts to advance outcomes for students. Now is the time to reimagine education, embrace responsiveness, and prioritize equitable policies that will ensure our students receive the education they deserve. That begins with financial investment from our lawmakers.

Kevin Beckford is the co-founder of The Hustlers Guild, a Black-led social impact organization that strives to build opportunities for youth ages 10-24. He is also an Advancement Manager with the Urban Assembly.

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