President Obama has now succumbed to the firestorm in opposition to standardized and “high stakes” testing that has swept the country over the past several years, even picking up on the talking points–“Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble”. So now he wants a cap on standardized testing at 2% of classroom time. Really. The Middle East is blowing up and the leader of the free world is micromanaging school time distribution.
Let’s look at the data and an interesting survey. The Council of the Great City Schools just released a study of the nation’s 66 largest school districts that revealed that students spend approximately 20-25 hours per school year taking these standardized tests, which amounts to 2.3% of classroom time for the average 8th grader who will take about 112 of them between PreK and 12th grade, approximately 8 per year. In Texas, students spend the equivalent of two full class days taking these tests, exclusive of re-takes, about 1.1% of the 180-day school year. Doesn’t sound too onerous, but that’s only part of the story, because most of the abuses of the testing are with the constant practice testing by the schools and “benchmarking” of students to prepare for the tests, none of which is mandated by the accountability system, but that gets lost in the demagoguery.
The Great City Schools study has other interesting findings. One of the most intriguing is that in their poll of parents, 78% of the respondents agreed or strongly agreed that “accountability for how well my child is educated is important, and it begins with accurate measurement of what he/she is learning in school”. Yet this support declines significantly when the word “test” appears in the question and parents respond more favorably to the need for improving tests than to references to more rigorous or harder tests. To me, this is pretty clear evidence of the success of the anti-testing advocates in demonizing any form of assessment that will provide the independent data that we need for diagnostics and to drive the accountability system. The sentence, “It is important to have an accurate measure of what my child knows” is supported by 82% of public school parents. Language about “testing” is not. Very instructive, don’t you think?
In Texas, we are about to have a major statewide conversation about this issue as we address the next generation of public school accountability and assessment through a 15-member commission created by the Legislature to study the relevant issues and report findings by December 2016. This is an extremely important undertaking that will have implications for the state for at least a decade or more. We have been on a march for the past 25 years that had led us to what was rated as the best public school accountability system in the country, one that, when fully implemented would measure progress to postsecondary readiness at every grade level culminating in a high school diploma signifying college and 21st century career readiness. Over the past two legislative sessions, this system has been gutted by the anti-testing zealots, so this new commission will try and determine where we should go from here. Whether or not you now have or will have children or grandchildren of school age, this process is important to you because it’s very important to Texas and the country, so please pay attention.