Opinion and Forefront

MEREDITH: Valuable teaching time drained by unnecessary testing

June 2, 2012

Teresa MeredithQuestion: The number of tests administered to Hoosier schoolchildren has multiplied in recent years, prompting criticism that excessive testing saps valuable time for instruction. Do schools spend too much time on standardized testing?

Answer:
Too much testing depletes instructional balance.

The number of tests administered to Hoosier children has multiplied in recent years and excessive testing has been criticized for stealing valuable classroom instruction time. Are Indiana schools spending too much time on standardized testing? I think so.

Every day, educators across the state tell me the amount of time spent on testing is too much—from state-mandated tests to quarterly and semester exams, weekly quizzes to the time spent on getting ready to take tests, the time has increased 15 percent to 20 percent or more.

I do support periodic assessments. Ongoing assessment is essential to effective planning. Teachers review results, determine what needs to be changed, reviewed or marked as mastered. Yet, in today’s climate of high-stakes testing, teachers are forced to make sure students are on target before taking tests. Test preparation becomes the instruction, essentially making teachers test before the test.

Most politicians say they want to improve schools, using statistics to show that Indiana and the United States fall far behind other nations. Teachers must be held accountable. Good teachers should be rewarded.

It all sounds quite logical. The Legislature passes laws; the Department of Education mandates the curriculum, prescribes best practices, develops standardized testing, and sets the bar. Superintendents require principals to put programs in place. Teachers push, drill and test the students all in the name of collecting data and proving growth.

Do most parents even know what tests their children have taken in a school year? The alphabet soup listing—some state-mandated, others chosen by school systems—is dizzying: ISTEP, IREAD, IMAST, ISTAR, mCLASS, DIBELS, Acuity, NAEP, Terra Nova, NWEA, ECA, STAR, AP, InView, LAS Links.

In one area school system, kindergarten teachers report spending more than 33 percent of the year in one-on-one assessments of students while an assistant or substitute teaches the class. Schools simply cannot afford to forfeit so much valuable classroom instruction time.

After each test, a report comes in living color where students can measure up against other students, other grades, other schools. Woe is the teacher whose students don’t measure up. The number of students, their home life, their motivation, their socioeconomic conditions or their behavior doesn’t matter. Teachers have been told there are no excuses. The data are recorded on the DOE website for all to see.

Children are finding their identity in their test scores, and teachers, too, are defined, rewarded or penalized by them. In order to accommodate the constant test-taking, science labs and extra classrooms are now computer labs for electronic testing. Computer programs that assess student skills have replaced interaction between students and teachers. Science and social studies have suffered—all in an effort to pass the test.

Do policymakers have any real understanding of the negative effect over-testing has on a classroom? I have witnessed the data screens in Superintendent Tony Bennett’s office at the Department of Education. Like glaring airport flight-status screens, the monitors compare Indiana test scores against other states’. The incessant, relentless testing ladder has no mercy.

It is perfectly clear that standardized testing is here to stay. Yet I believe a better balance of classroom instruction with appropriate testing produces better students. Let’s make testing a way to help teachers, administrators and policymakers work together to better meet the needs of our students. Used properly, better standardized testing can help tell us whether standards-based reforms are working.

As this school year draws to a close, let’s succeed in years to come with more targeted instruction, and less testing, for more constructive classrooms.•

• Meredith is vice president of the Indiana State Teachers Association and has taught for more than 18 years in Indiana schools. Send comments on this column to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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