D.C. school system forms task force to study student testing

After years of complaints from parents and teachers about too much testing in D.C. public schools, Chancellor Kaya Henderson on Thursday announced that a new task force will work to “help put testing in the proper perspective.”

The move comes amid national debate about the role of standardized tests and in the wake of a newly signed D.C. law that requires the city’s traditional and public charter schools to create policies limiting the number of practice tests they administer to students.

A spokeswoman for Henderson said that the school system’s effort is unrelated to that law. She said the goal is to make sure that the school system is reducing the time devoted to — and stress associated with — testing, while also ensuring that tests are serving as a tool to figure out what students know and need to learn.

“I have heard from parents across the district that their students worry about tests, but they aren’t sure that DCPS is using tests to help their students learn,” Henderson said in a statement. “I’ve put together a task force to determine how we can do testing better, to help ensure that we have schools where testing and accountability do not take away from our students’ love of learning.”

The emphasis on standardized tests has intensified across the country during the past decade as politicians and policymakers have sought ways to measure and judge the effectiveness of schools, teachers and principals.

But many educators and parents argue that children spend so much time and energy testing and preparing for tests that real learning suffers.

“People are getting frustrated with the constant, every six-to-nine weeks, either being prepped for the test or taking the test,” said Lee Granados, the mother of two children at School Without Walls at Francis Stevens. “You don’t feel like your kids are enjoying school anymore.”

The District’s 27-member testing task force met for the first time last week and plans to come up with recommendations for Henderson in coming months. The task force includes teachers, principals, instructional superintendents and other school system employees.

The task force plans to consult with parents, but parents aren’t part of the group, which some said is a mistake.

“You need parents as part of this discussion,” Granados said. Ultimately the ones that are most affected by the testing are the kids, and the people ultimately responsible for the children are the parents and guardians.”

D.C. students take standardized literacy assessments as early as kindergarten and continue testing through high school. Besides annual citywide standardized tests each spring, students take four mid-year benchmark exams and other literacy and achievement tests.

High school students also miss class to take college-entrance exams, Advanced Placement exams and International Baccalaureate exams.

Last year, D.C. Council member and possible mayoral candidate David A. Catania (I-At Large) introduced a bill calling on the school system and all D.C charter schools to develop and publicize plans to limit practice and field tests. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) signed the bill into law last month.

Emma Brown writes about D.C. education and about people with a stake in schools, including teachers, parents and kids.
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