Sunday, October 25, 2015

Limit Testing

"Learning is about so much more than filling in the right bubble." - President Obama

Millions of us liked and shared news yesterday that the Obama administration has called for a limit to standardized testing in American classrooms. So much of the rhetoric in his short speech, I love.

The argument is familiar to most parents, students and teachers. As such, it be a great short speech to study in class. He opens with a call to his audience: parents and teachers. Students could easily connect to the context of this address. He uses a variety of accessible appeals. We are beginning argument next quarter, so I typed a transcript of the speech. I want to talk about it with students in my classes.

I wonder though about some of the language and what it will really mean for teachers and schools.

What "tests are worth taking"? How does President Obama define tests? Is he using the word to talk about high-stakes, standardized tests? Tests that teachers and parents know have run over authentic learning in a race to the top. Surely those of us who streamed the news on Facebook and Twitter believe that.

News outlets reported that the President called on districts to use "no more than 2% of class time to take tests" (Zernike, Atkinson, Ure and Liptak). What does such a limit actually mean?

If I take it to mean districts may not use more than 2% of our class time to test students, then as a high school teacher facing 180 days of instruction, then I am looking at no more than 3.5 days worth district-mandated testing. Right? 
From the 2015-2016  Orange County Public Schools Parent Guide

Our district declared PSAT day for high school students this fall. Students in grades nine through eleven took the PSAT district-wide on October 14. Does that count? Do end of course exams count? Or Advanced Placement tests? On whose authority do students take those tests? 

Our district eliminated several testing practice sessions. We are no longer required to do two benchmark reading exams. We are no longer required to give three practice writing assessments. We got five days--an instructional week--back. I wrote about that here, and here, and here

In turn, teachers have been asked to give common assessments every few weeks. If we stick to a three-week, common assessment schedule, that means we must design, create and implement a common assessment twelve times a year—more than two instructional weeks, gone again. Some of the assessments teacher teams design span more than one class period. Are these assessments "worth it"? Who says? 

Common assessments, like some standardized tests, can be valuable learning tools, but like standardized tests, they can run over the joy in teaching and learning. The President is not talking about common assessment though. He's talking about a different kind of standardization. 

In high schools, the number of tests students take depends of the kind of student they are. As a teacher and a parent, I know that the number of test my child will take depends on what course he takes at school. If my child chooses to take a class to improve his reading or math skills (remedial courses are no longer required by law in Florida), then he will take a battery of assessments as teachers monitor progress through standardized curricula. Even if he does not choose to take such course, he could test more.
From the 2015-2016  Orange County Public Schools Parent Guide

With a push to accelerate learning, districts enroll students in advanced placement (AP) courses by the thousands. By passing an AP test, students have opportunities to earn college credits while still in high school. This can be a win-win for students and schools. It's also big business. 

Do AP tests count? Do they fit the President's three basic principles?

These courses and tests are a choice for students and parents. Does it matter if districts are using resources to administer them?

Time seems relative. Money talks. Listening to President Obama’s speech about testing, I start thinking about the money, the resources schools and districts pour into testing of all types.

What if districts had to limit not just time, but also spending on tests to 2%? 

1 comment:

  1. Oh to spending just 2% of budget on to my ears. I haven't gotten a chance to watch the video yet. This is the first I've read about President Obama's declaration. I'm cautiously optimistic. The talk is going in the right direction. Hopeful that things will be changing soon. I still have lots of questions too Lee Ann. Looking forward to more answers!