Editorials

Editorial: Finding the sweet spot on student testing

Students work in the computer lab at a school in Oklahoma City. Wading into one of the most polarizing issues in education, President Barack Obama called Oct. 24 for capping standardized testing at 2 percent of classroom time, while conceding the government shares responsibility for having turned tests into the be-all-and-end-all of American schools.
Students work in the computer lab at a school in Oklahoma City. Wading into one of the most polarizing issues in education, President Barack Obama called Oct. 24 for capping standardized testing at 2 percent of classroom time, while conceding the government shares responsibility for having turned tests into the be-all-and-end-all of American schools. Associated Press File Photo

President Barack Obama’s declaration that public schools should spend less time testing students and more time teaching them won’t have a direct impact on the nation’s classrooms.

That’s because decisions about which tests to use and how often to give them are made by states and local school districts – not bureaucrats in Washington, D.C.

Still, the White House provides a bully pulpit and Obama’s remarks – made in a video posted Oct. 24 on Facebook – add to the national debate about the pros and cons of high-stakes testing.

“Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble,” Obama said in the video. “So we’re going to work with states, school districts, teachers and parents to make sure that we’re not obsessing about testing.”

A plan released by the Obama administration called for students to spend a maximum of 2 percent of their class time taking tests.

Providing context for that recommendation was a study of 66 big-city public school districts released Oct. 24 by the Council of Great City Schools, which bills itself as “The Nation’s Voice for Urban Education.” (Fresno Unified School District is a member of the council, and Fresno State is an affiliated university partner.)

The council found that the average eighth-grade student spent 2.3 percent of the school year taking mandated tests.

“The average amount of mandated test time, however, differed by grade and did not include time spent on sample tests, optional tests, and program tests or time to prepare for the tests,” the council said in a news release. “The time spent on mandatory tests also does not include individual classroom testing or tests designed or acquired at the individual school level.”

However you add it up, it’s a lot of testing – roughly 112 mandatory standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and high school graduation.

We’d be all right with that number if it produced more career- and college-ready students. But, according to the experts, it doesn’t. In fact, there is no correlation between mandated testing time and reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, the council said.

Tests are important. A teacher needs to know whether students have mastered important fundamentals. Test results also provide a snapshot of school performance, which parents can use in deciding whether a school is the right fit for their children.

But when more and more time is spent prepping for tests, children are robbed of opportunities to learn, and gifted teachers are turned into robots.

It is vital to our nation’s future that we stop looking for quick fixes in education and do the necessary hard work to properly support teachers and students.

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