Do our valuable teachers and priceless students spend too much classroom time on standardized tests?  Is it time well-spent? The answers might surprise you.

To orient you to the impact of standardized tests on our local classroom, a typical 8th grader in Howard County will take the following tests:

  • Maryland Integrated Science Assessment (MISA). (April-May).
  • The Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Career (PARCC). (April-June).
  • Measures of Academic Progress (MAP). (September, October, December, January, May, June).
  • Additional testing for students with disabilities and for English Language Learners.

At first glance, four standardized tests might not seem a difficult burden.

However, these tests consume a disproportionate amount of valuable classroom time each year. One study by the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) found teachers lose between 60 and 110 of instructional time running practice tests, aligning curriculum to testing standards, and administering test-associated administrative work, such as collecting and analyzing data and grouping students by test performance.

All this time must be made up somewhere.  The result is often a narrowed experience for students, with less time for arts, languages, social studies (because they are usually not part of standardized tests) and even recess.  For the teacher, the lost time means fewer opportunities to accomplish her own goals for her individual students.

It might be worth it if we could prove standardized testing better equips our students for success, but this is not the case.  The NCTE report shows GED students perform just as well as high school graduates on standardized tests, even though these GED students have no mandatory classroom test-prep lessons, no practice tests and impose no test-related administrative burden on teachers.

Worse, critical components of the public education experience – developing curiosity, learning sociability and the value of perseverance – have been shown to suffer in test-heavy environments, yet we know students need all these qualities to pursue success and happiness.

Should we get rid of test-taking entirely?  No. We need standards by which to compare our students’ achievement relative to the rest of the country.  Standardized tests have a valuable place in a student’s overall educational record but should be given appropriate weight, no more and no less.  We get a clearer picture of the whole student – her achievements, capabilities, strengths and challenges – when we blend testing with other measures such as skills surveys, student portfolios, and game-based assessments.

Finding the right balance is complex. We need to continue our community conversation on the best ways to assure our students get the best education can provide.  Part of our responsibility as parents and education leaders is to stay well-informed on the issue, and in that spirit I ask you to consider this:

The countries acknowledged as having the best school systems in the world, such as Finland and Singapore, give very few standardized tests compared to the U.S.  Students in Finland take only one standardized test during their primary and secondary school experience, yet consistently outrank American students on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), a traditional standard for comparing student outcomes around the world.

I believe we need to find a more enlightened student-assessment path, for the sake of our children and our teachers. If we can free the classroom environment from the tyranny and pressure of the proven-to-be-ineffective testing treadmill, just imagine how they will soar!

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