Less Testing Is Not the Answer
Lumped in with the controversy around the Common Core State Standards is an anti-testing sentiment that fails to understand the repercussions of eliminating useful, regular feedback about students’ progress. From anecdotal stories of parents pulling their children out of school during testing to a bill pending in Congress that would severely limit the regularity of assessments, the anti-testing movement might sound loud, but it represents just about one-quarter of parents.
Other parents — like this Portland, Ore., mother — want standardized feedback on their child’s academic progress. But the bill in Congress, sponsored by Reps. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ), seeks to undo that by reducing the number of federally mandated tests to only one per grade span (meaning one test each in elementary, middle, and high school). The anti-testing movement might think this sounds good, but in practice, it could damage transparency in student achievement.
By testing students so infrequently, it would make it nearly impossible to have any sense of how a student is progressing year to year. If a child was assessed in third grade, for example, and then not again until eighth grade, she could go five years before anyone notices she isn’t making the same kind of academic progress relative to her peers. Furthermore, if an elementary school student isn’t assessed for the first time until fifth grade, how would his teachers know whether he was proficient in reading by third grade (which research tells us is critical for a child’s academic development). Educators, districts, and states need the kind of data that testing students at the current rate — each year in third to eighth grade and at least once in high school — provides in order to catch gaps in students’ achievement early on and address them.
Testing critics might think that this bill will address over-testing in our schools, but it’s important to remember that federal policy requires one test a year in English language arts and math and less frequently in science. That’s it. All the other tests children take are required by their state, their district, or their teachers. Some of those entities do, indeed, require too much additional testing, but changing federal law won’t change state law, district practices, or teacher habits. What it will do is limit a parent’s ability to know how her child is doing relative to other children in their school, district, and state.
While this particular bill is unlikely to move very far in Congress, efforts like these that aim to limit the information that parents, teachers, and students have access to are short-sighted. Students and parents deserve more information — not less — on how students are being prepared for college and the workforce. And annual assessments should remain a part of that.