COMPLAINTS ABOUT public school testing have been on the rise, centered on the amount of time devoted to the assessments and preparation for them. Concern about excessive testing that detracts from learning and distorts the school experience is understandable. But the solution is not to do away with tests; they are far too valuable in providing information on student achievement. The answer lies in better, smarter tests; that’s why the move to streamline assessments aligned with the Common Core State Standards should be applauded.
The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the consortium that developed the tests used in the District, Maryland and 10 other states, voted last month to shave 90 minutes off the approximate 10-hour annual tests and to shift the testing to later in the school year. This was the first year for the tests, and while they were generally praised as a more effective measure of student learning, there were complaints about the length of time they took and disruption caused by spreading the tests over two months, one in early spring and one in late spring. The revamped tests will take effect with the 2015-2016 school year, and officials say the changes won’t diminish the ability to gauge student achievement.
The move by PARCC — using real-life experience and intelligent feedback from parents, students and educators to tweak the tests without abandoning their core function — should serve as a model in what promises to be the nation’s continued debate about testing. If there is a problem with over-testing, it lies not with the once-a-year annual assessments mandated under the federal No Child Left Behind Act but with the multitude of advance and prep tests ordered by local school districts. Some states have taken steps to limit the total hours of testing. The Maryland General Assembly this past session created a commission to collect data on how much time districts spend giving standardized tests and to look at ways to reduce it.
Any examination of testing must be premised on the fact that schools need to assess student learning systematically. It’s the best way to get objective and timely information on student achievement to let parents know how their children are doing, help school officials identify where to put resources and show taxpayers what they are getting for their tax dollars. Shortening and limiting tests may be in order — but only if the changes don’t compromise the ability to measure how well a child is learning.