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.

rules and regs

State shortens length of ‘gag order’ on teachers discussing Regents questions online

PHOTO: G. Tatter

After pushback from teachers, the State Education Department has changed a new provision that temporarily prohibits teachers from discussing Regents exam questions online.

The original rule stated that teachers could not use email or a listserv to discuss test questions or other specific content with other teachers until a week after the exam period ended on June 23. As Chalkbeat reported Tuesday, teachers objected, arguing that they sometimes needed to discuss questions in order to properly grade the tests or to challenge questions that seems unfair.

Under the change, tests taken between June 13 and June 16 can be discussed online beginning June 23. And for those taken between June 19 and June 22, teachers can discuss content online beginning June 27.

According to education department officials, the provision was intended to ensure that testing material did not spread online before all students had completed their exams, particularly among schools that serve students with special needs, who qualify for multiple-day testing.

“We believe that nearly all students who are testing with this accommodation will have completed their exams by these dates,” Steven Katz, director of the Office of State Assessment, wrote in a memo to school principals and leaders.

Still, longtime physics teacher Gene Gordon and former president of the Science Teachers Association of New York State noted that, to some extent, the damage was done since the amendment to the rule came out only after many teachers had already graded their exams.

“It did not have any real effect,” Gordon said.

The New York State United Teachers — which criticized the new provision on Tuesday as a “gag order” and called for its repeal — called the amendment a “clear victory” for educators. Still, NYSUT spokesman Carl Korn told Chalkbeat, “it clearly will be more helpful in the future than this year.”

Testing Testing

Calculator mix-up could force some students to retake ISTEP, and Pearson is partially to blame

PHOTO: Ann Schimke

ISTEP scores for thousands of students across the state will be thrown out this year, including at two Indianapolis private schools, according to state officials.

The mishap can be traced back to calculators. Students at 20 schools used calculators on a section of the 2017 ISTEP math test when they shouldn’t have — in at least one district because of incorrect instructions from Pearson, the company that administers the tests in Indiana.

It’s a small glitch compared to the massive testing issues Indiana experienced with its previous testing company, CTB McGraw Hill. But years of problems have put teachers, students and parents on high alert for even minor hiccups. In 2013, for example, about 78,000 students had their computers malfunction during testing. Pearson began administering ISTEP in 2016.

The calculator mix-up involving Pearson happened in Rochester Community Schools, located about two hours north of Indianapolis. About 700 students in three schools received the incorrect instructions.

Molly Deuberry, spokeswoman for the Indiana Department of Education, said that Rochester is the only district known to have received the incorrect instructions, but the state is also investigating calculator-related problems at 19 other schools.

According to federal rules, students who use calculators on non-calculator test sections must have their scores labeled as “undetermined.” Current sophomores will need to retake the test, since passing the 10th-grade exam is a graduation requirement in Indiana. Students will have multiple opportunities to do so, including during the summer, state officials said.

It’s not clear how the invalidated scores will affect those schools’ A-F letter grades. It is up to the Indiana State Board of Education to handle A-F grade appeals, which districts can request once grades are released.

“The Department and State Board will collaborate to ensure that the State Board receives sufficient detail about this incident when reviewing the appeals,” the education department said in an email.

Pearson spokesman Scott Overland said in an email that they would work with the education department to follow up on the calculator issues and correct their processes for next year.

“In some cases, Pearson inadvertently provided inaccurate or unclear guidance on the use of calculators during testing,” Overland said. “In these instances, we followed up quickly to help local school officials take corrective action.”

Here are the districts and schools the state says had students incorrectly use calculators on this year’s ISTEP:

  • Covington Christian School, Covington
  • Eastbrook South Elementary, Eastbrook Schools
  • Eastern Hancock Elementary School, Eastern Hancock County Schools
  • Emmanuel-St. Michael Lutheran School, Fort Wayne
  • Frankfort Middle School, Frankfort Community Schools
  • George M Riddle Elementary School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Lasalle Elementary School, School City of Mishawaka
  • New Haven Middle School, East Allen County Schools
  • Rochester Community Middle School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Rochester Community High School, Rochester Community Schools
  • Saint Boniface School, Lafayette
  • Saint Joseph High School, South Bend
  • Saint Roch Catholic School, Indianapolis
  • Silver Creek Middle School, West Clark Community Schools
  • St. Louis de Montfort School, Lafayette
  • Tennyson Elementary School, Warrick County Schools
  • Thomas Jefferson Elementary School, School City of Hammond
  • Trinity Christian School, Indianapolis
  • Waterloo Elementary School, DeKalb County Schools
  • Westfield Middle School, Westfield-Washington Schools

This story has been updated to include comments from Pearson.