Testing Testing

Survey: Colorado teachers say there’s too much testing

Colorado teachers claim they’re spending too much of their time prepping and administering state mandated tests, a survey conducted by the state’s largest union found. Those same teachers believe their time with students could be better used on instruction.

The results, released this morning, add another voice to the growing statewide cacophony on standardized tests.

Debates about how many state mandated assessments are required, whether those tests are valid and whether those tests should be play a role in a teachers evaluation and district’s performance have been growing in number and volume since the fall.

So far, the Democratically controlled Colorado General Assembly has been hesitant to act on those concerns. Last week, the Senate Education Committee killed a bill that would have postponed the implementation of state assessments aligned to the standards. On Monday, the House Education Committee postponed action on a bill that would allow districts to opt out of those tests. That committee is expected to pick up the bill Wednesday morning.

“It’s important to note that teachers are not ‘anti-testing’ — but testing is only one piece of a balanced approach to improve student outcomes,” Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman said in a statement accompanying the union’s survey results. “We need classroom time to teach critical skills, meaningful tests aligned to the curriculum we’re teaching, and fair, valid evaluations on how we’re performing so we have quality teachers in the classroom.”

Dallman’s statement maybe considered an opening act to a rally CEA is hosting Tuesday evening. The union is billing that event as the kick-off of a new campaign called “Free Our Teachers, Value Our Students.” The aim of the campaign is to garner support to reduce “educational mandates, testing time and bureaucratic red tape in Colorado’s public schools.”

CEA officials have publicly stressed their support for standardized tests and teacher accountability. But the most adamant supporters of Colorado’s education reform policies believe the union is attempting to undermine those systems of accountability.

Among the survey’s other findings:

  • Ninety percent of elementary and middle school teachers said mandated assessments get in the way of more interesting units of study which benefit students long-term.  
  • Teachers said they spend at least 50 of 180 days during the academic year administering state and district tests, with language arts specialists spending the most time on mandated assessments.
  • Sixty percent of teachers reported standardized tests and state and district assessments cannot effectively hold students accountable for learning; 80 percent of teachers doubt that tests can effectively assess teaching quality.

The online survey was conducted last week, and polled roughly 1,200 elementary, middle and high school teachers.

Test tweaks

Tennessee will halve science and social studies tests for its youngest students

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen announced Wednesday plans to slim down science and social studies assessments for third- and fourth-graders as she seeks to respond to complaints of over-testing in Tennessee.

McQueen has been mulling over that option since meeting last summer with her testing task force. The State Department of Education received more public feedback on testing during the last eight months while developing the state’s new plan for its schools in response to a new federal education law.

Tennessee already has eliminated a state test for eighth- and tenth-graders, as well as shortened TNReady, the state’s end-of-year tests for math and reading.

It’s uncertain just how significant the latest reductions are, since McQueen also said that some “components” would be added to English tests in those grades.  

And the trimming, while significant, falls short of a suggestion to eliminate the tests altogether. Federal law does not require tests in science and social studies for those grades, like it does for math and English.

Parents and educators have become increasingly vocal about the amount of testing students are undergoing. The average Tennessee third-grader, for instance, currently spends more than 11 hours taking end-of-course tests in math, English, social studies and science. That doesn’t include practice tests and screeners through the state’s 3-year-old intervention program.

McQueen noted that more changes could be on the horizon. Her testing task force has also considered eliminating or reducing TNReady for 11th-graders because they already are required to take the ACT college-entrance exam. “We will continue to evaluate all of our options for streamlining assessments in the coming years, including in the 11th grade,” she wrote in a blog post.

McQueen also announced that the state is tweaking its schools plan to reduce the role that chronic absenteeism will play in school evaluation scores.

The federal Every Student Succeeds Act requires states to evaluate schools based off of a measure that’s not directly tied to test scores. Tennessee officials have selected chronic absenteeism, which is defined as missing 10 percent of school days for any reason, including absences or suspension. McQueen said the measure will be changed to count for 10 percent of a school’s final grade, down from 20 percent for K-8 schools and 15 percent for high schools.

Some local district officials had raised concerns that absenteeism was out of the control of schools.

early adopters

Here are the 25 districts committing to taking TNReady online this spring

PHOTO: Alan Petersime

One year after Tennessee’s first attempt at online testing fizzled, 25 out of 140 Tennessee school districts have signed up to try again.

About 130 districts were eligible to test online this year.

Education Commissioner Candice McQueen said Thursday the number is what she expected as districts prepare to administer the state’s TNReady assessment in April.

Although all districts will make the switch to online testing by 2019 for middle and high school students, they had the option to forge ahead this year with their oldest students.

The Department of Education is staggering its transition to online testing — a lesson learned last year when most of the state tried to do it all at once and the online platform buckled on the first day. As a result, the department fired its testing company, derailing the state’s assessment program, and later hired  Questar as its new test maker.

Districts piloted Questar’s online platform last fall, and had until Wednesday to decide whether to forge ahead with online testing for their high school students this spring or opt for paper-and-pencil tests.

McQueen announced the state’s new game plan for TNReady testing in January and said she is confident that the new platform will work.

While this year was optional for high schools, all high schools will participate in 2018. Middle and elementary schools will make the switch in 2019, though districts will have the option of administering the test on paper to its youngest students.

Districts opting in this spring are:

  • Alvin C. York Institute
  • Bedford County
  • Bledsoe County
  • Blount County
  • Bristol City
  • Campbell County
  • Cannon County
  • Cheatham County
  • Clay County
  • Cocke County
  • Coffee County
  • Cumberland County
  • Grundy County
  • Hamilton County
  • Hancock County
  • Knox County
  • Jackson-Madison County
  • Moore County
  • Morgan County
  • Putnam County
  • Scott County
  • Sullivan County
  • Trousdale County
  • Washington County
  • Williamson County