A 70-percent reduction in testing that Detroit schools chief Nikolai Vitti has proposed is only the first step in a broader push to rein in runaway testing, Vitti said Friday.
High school students will see the greatest impact of the changes, as they go from taking district-level exams in most subjects to taking only a state reading and math exam in 11th grade, according to the district’s draft testing schedule.
Students in grades 3-8 will continue to take required state exams, as well as tests that the district chose to comply with state law tying teachers’ annual evaluations to measures of how much their students have learned. Vitti also left in place an early-grades reading exam, in anticipation of a new law requiring students who are behind in reading in third grade to be held back, starting in two years.
Vitti said he doesn’t yet have an estimate of how much restored instructional time the changes will yield, but he said his team is working on crunching those numbers.
What is clear, he said, is that the district also needs to take a hard look at exams that are required by individual schools, which also contribute to the widespread sense that students spend far too much time taking tests. That will come in the future, and certainly by the 2018-2019 school year, he said.
“People think if you’re not testing, you’re not being rigorous, you’re not holding students accountable, you’re not holding teachers accountable,” Vitti said. “Often schools will test more because they don’t have faith in district assessments.”
With most exams required by the district on their way out, the public only will have state test scores for judging how students are doing in additional grades and subjects. Vitti said further steps should be taken to reduce the reliance on those scores — and that he anticipates including the issue on the legislative agenda that he is starting to think about as he begins his first school year at the helm of the Detroit district. “These are all topics that we’re gong to have to start exploring,” he said.
For now, he said, he’s pleased that the district is entering the new school year with a big change already in the works.
“It is a point of satisfaction to initiate change based on the feedback from teachers, and exciting to look at a calendar and see three months with no district testing,” Vitti said. “We’ve come a long way in a short time.”