Is there hope that the testing craze may have peaked? Finally, a reputable study has reported that tests are overwhelming public schools. Teachers, students and parents have been saying so for several years. Their voices have reached the top. Today, the Council on Great City Schools released its preliminary report of a survey of testing practices. President Obama also says there is too much testing. Read the fine print. What is really being said?
Here are some findings from the Great City Schools report:
- 401 unique tests were administered in the 66 school districts participating in the study.
- Students in grades K through 12 were required to take 112.3 tests, not including school or teacher developed tests.
- The average student will take 8 standardized tests per year. These tests require between 20 and 25 hours a year primarily concentrated in the spring of the year.
- There is no correlation between the mandated testing time in reading and mathematics in grades four and eight and the scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP).
- Continuing changes in state assessments from year to year made it difficult to use test scores to track educational reforms.
Recommendations. There were many suggestions, but two are most important.
- Continue to annually test in grades three through eight and once in high school.
- Revisit or clarify having student test scores for every teacher’s evaluation and the requirement for Student Learning Objectives in untested grades and subjects.
Tests overlap, are not always tied to standards, and are used for disjointed purposes that do not inform student learning. The report shares the blame among Congress, the Department of Education, the States, and the districts. Yet, the amount and cost of testing are not as significant as their lack of coherence. What needs to be done is to revamp our testing systems to provide valid and consistent measures that can inform instruction, according to the study.
President Obama called for a cap on testing such that students spend no more than two percent of their time testing. The Great City Schools report states that students now spend 2.34% of their time taking tests. The President agreed that No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top mandates contributed to the current problems. He indicated that the federal government would develop more flexible ways to meet federal requirements for NCLB waivers.
Will anything change? Some redundant requirements may be eliminated. If federal tests were mandated only for reading and math, testing could be reduced for other subjects. If, however, test scores continue to be used as part of teacher evaluations, then one assumes that testing in all subjects would continue. As long as the stakes are high for schools, teachers, and students, talk about reducing testing has little meaning. Even worse, the impact of teaching to the test on curriculum is unabated. Thus far, the rhetoric is changing, but the words have little concrete meaning.
The President said that new guidelines will be ready by January 2016. The Congress is stalled on revising NCLB laws. Maybe the clouds will clear in Washington, but the states have their own agendas. While the laws are being revisited, the children wait for the help they need.