The survey of 66 large, urban school districts, including Seattle Public Schools, concluded that there is a mishmash of tests that are often redundant, incoherent and uninformative for teachers, students and parents.
As President Obama called for a cap on standardized testing on Saturday, there was mention of a report that counted how many tests students take in 66 large, urban school districts around the country, including Seattle Public Schools.
The Council concluded that there is a mishmash of tests required by different levels of government — federal, state and local — that it said are often redundant, incoherent and uninformative for teachers, students and parents. It also said that all levels of government share the blame for that situation.
“Everyone has some culpability in how much testing there is and how redundant and uncoordinated it is – Congress, the U.S. Department of Education, states, local school systems and even individual schools and teachers,” Michael Casserly, the council’s executive director, said in a prepared statement. “Everyone must play a role in improving this situation.”
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The Council also found no relationship between the time that school districts spend on mandatory testing and how well their students do on national tests known as the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, which are given to a sample of students every few years. And it called for the federal government to revisit its policies on how student test scores should be used in the evaluation of teachers.
But it also said it thinks annual testing is a good idea in grades 3-8, and once in high school, especially for tracking the progress of minority students and other historically disadvantaged kids. And it estimated that students in the 66 districts spend an average of 2.3 percent of their class time taking tests — not much more than the 2 percent cap that Obama proposed.
Here’s what else the council found:
- As reported Saturday, students in the 66 districts are required to take an average of 112 such tests between preschool and high school. (The authors counted tests that all students are required to take in a particular grade level, not tests for special groups or classroom tests given by individual teachers. It also did not try to determine how much time students spend preparing for tests.)
- The average student typically takes about eight such tests a year — a state math and reading test at the end of the year plus six exams throughout the year to track progress. (The report did not give a district-by-district accounting.)
- Kids spend the most time on mandatory testing in eighth grade — about four days out of the school year — although that doesn’t count prep time.
- Several districts are cutting back the number of tests they give each year, including Seattle Public Schools. One example: Seattle has trimmed back one district-level test for students in kindergarten, first and second grade, going from twice a year to once a year.
It’s not yet clear what might happen in Seattle or elsewhere in light of the president’s remarks on Saturday. For one, he spoke in general terms, saying testing needs to be high-quality and fair, and not so onerous that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning. More details won’t be spelled out until later, with federal guidance promised in January. But Obama and outgoing U.S. Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan also scheduled a meeting Monday with teachers and other school officials.
In his remarks on Facebook, Obama said that, in moderation, strategic testing can help teachers and students. But he also said he doesn’t remember his best teachers for how well they prepared him for standardized tests, but for the way they taught him to believe in himself, be curious about the world and take charge of his own learning.
“That’s what good teaching is,” he said. “That’s what a great education is.”
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This story, originally published at 5 a.m. Monday, has been corrected. An earlier headline said that President Obama referred to this report in calling for a cap on standardized testing. The president didn’t specifically mention the report in his statement, but others did, including U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.