Link Round Up: Is Over Testing Hurting Our Students?

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Photo "2014_0625ayers" by Jared Rodriguez / Truthout is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Photo “2014_0625ayers” by Jared Rodriguez / Truthout is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Many parents and teachers have become increasingly concerned about the high-stakes attached to so many standardized tests. In the era of accountability-driven testing, is it possible that these tests are harming our students, teachers and schools? Around the country, educators are pondering this question, including the Massachusetts Executive Office of Education, which recently announced that it is commissioning a study to assess if too much testing is being required of students. Tests can have a profound effect on students and may disproportionately impact our poorest students, most struggling students, English Language Learners, and students of color. To investigate this topic further, the Aspire Wire and the Policy Connection have complied a roundup of articles considering how over testing may be negatively impacting our students.

One writer at the Boston Globe thinks we must Evaluate the MCAS (Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System), but that doesn’t mean we should abandon testing.

The Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System, better known as MCAS, is 21 years old. Passed in 1993 as part of a groundbreaking education reform act, it was first administered in fourth, eighth, and 10th grades — and used as a graduation requirement, at a time when the only statewide requirements were four years of physical education and a year of US history. Since then, MCAS has grown in frequency and influence. Tests have been added in new grade levels, partly out of fairness to teachers, who complained that they shouldn’t be held accountable for previous years of work. State officials have tied MCAS scores to administrative interventions, and placed more emphasis on schools’ year-to-year growth. Those changes, intended to better measure student progress, have led to an unintended but predictable consequence: More classroom time spent preparing for the tests.

Our own Jacob Murray, Executive Director of the Aspire Institute at Wheelock College, thinks “too much testing may impede innovation, creativity, divergent thinking and individuality among generations of students” in a piece for WBUR’s Cognoscenti:

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Education (EOE) recently announced that it has commissioned a study to assess whether the state was requiring too much testing of students. The study is in response to growing concern from administrators, teachers and families that the state’s — and the country’s — focus on standardized testing has hijacked school curriculum and schedules and stifled both teacher and student creativity.

Is this concern valid? Since being one of the first states to develop a comprehensive student assessment system, Massachusetts routinely leads the nation in performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT) and performs highly on international assessments, such as the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS). Isn’t this a good thing?

Jacob Murray considered the question if the PARCC Assessment good or bad in a previous Aspire Wire post.

Recent news suggests a surge of opposition to Common Core – and, more directly, its related standardized assessment the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) — is sweeping the country. Parents, educators, academics and even entertainers, such as Louis CK, are speaking out, and in many cases, boycotting the PARCC. Wheelock early childhood education faculty member, Diane Levin, and colleagues from the Defending the Early Years initiative, recently took issue with the PARCC in the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet Blog.

But is the PARCC assessment bad? In fairness, I have not thoroughly reviewed the PARCC to determine whether its content is aligned with curriculum and key constructs, developmentally appropriate, or clear in task. These are all important considerations. However, when it comes to assessments, I always start with the question: how is an assessment used?

In the New York Times, Lizette Alvarez notes that “states are listening as parents give rampant testing an F.”

Florida embraced the school accountability movement early and enthusiastically, but that was hard to remember at a parent meeting in a high school auditorium here not long ago.

Parents railed at a system that they said was overrun by new tests coming from all levels — district, state and federal. Some wept as they described teenagers who take Xanax to cope with test stress, children who refuse to go to school and teachers who retire rather than promote a culture that seems to value testing over learning.

Bill Duncan of the New Hampshire Board of Education notes that “there is wide agreement that we are over-testing students.”

We’ve been hearing a lot about testing in our schools. There were proposals in the last Legislature — unsuccessful in the end — to postpone the new Smarter Balanced annual assessment. Nashua teachers made news last winter saying that neither their schools nor their students were ready for the new Common Core test (though fears seemed to settle down after they tried the test last spring). And Manchester Mayor Gatsas feels his city should not have to take the test.

There is actually no way for a community to opt out of the annual statewide assessment. For the past 14 years, the No Child Left Behind act has required states to test every child every year in grades 3-8 and one year in high school.

Now that you’ve read through several expert opinions on this topic, we want to hear from you. Is testing a fair measure of a school’s quality? Have you seen effects of excessive testing on your students and children?