Right-size, right-shape testing

We need smart tests, not just lots of tests. Between pre-tests, interim tests, test prep, accountability tests, and more, schools are losing days and days to tests. And, many don’t align to the curriculum or each other. They often don’t give teachers what they need to help kids do or tell parents what they want to know.

There is a growing and understandable backlash against excessive testing. I hear about it constantly from parents at almost every ward 3 school. The pressure from constant math/English Language Arts testing is squeezing non- and less-tested subjects out of the curriculum and stealing valuable hours from instruction. I believe it is even worse elsewhere in the city.

But the right answer for our kids is not to indiscriminately do away with all the tests.  We don’t want to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We need high-quality end-of-year tests that tell parents, teachers and schools whether kids are reaching standards. And we need to know if students are falling behind before year’s end.  Our schools start with new end-of-year reading and math tests this spring. This is the right moment to revisit and right-size the proliferation of other tests!

Here are two few specific ways in which I believe the DC State Board of Education can help right-size/right shape  testing.

  1. Do a Testing Inventory! Let’s start with an inventory of the various tests that are being used: What is the purpose of each one? How many of them are there? How long does each take?  Do they overlap with each other? Are they well-aligned to the final tests? To the curriculum that teachers are teaching? Do the results help teachers determine what kids need? Do they help schools target intervention? Getting this information is the first step towards streamlining and smartening up our testing process. Achieve, the national organization created in 1996 by the 50 state governors and national business leaders to raise academic standards and strengthen accountability, is encouraging states and school districts to do this.  Click here to see their whole report. for the inventory itself, go to page 4.
  1. Make better testing options known and available to schools. A new generation of “embedded” assessment tasks are becoming available to teachers and schools. These don’t look like standardized tests, and they don’t interrupt instruction the way standardized tests typically do, but they can reliably inform teachers and schools about students’ progress toward standards and any specific problems students are having, allowing timely decisions to be made about intervention.   An excellent report on improving interim assessment was published by the Aspen Institute. As the report notes, “When students are engaged in such [assessment] tasks, an observer struggles to determine whether there is an assessment underway or simply and interesting instruction unit.”

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Ruth Wattenberg for Ward 3 School Board 2014

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