Reining in the Test Monster

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(For all U.S. teachers)

I’ve gone over testing in this blog. And over testing. And over testing. If readers are not becoming bored, I certainly am. I am sometimes tempted to drop the blog and start writing zombie romances.

“Urgggg”…. He moaned, unable to tell her that he loved her. His gray arms reached for her in the night.
“Warrrhhhggg,” she groaned, her one eye fixed on his shambling frame. She knew what he meant. They had never needed words.

zombie screenshot

But I can’t let go of testing yet.

So I will simply lay out exactly what I think we need to do about the Testing Monster. We need to cap total testing days. I can see no reason why a school should need more than a few afternoons at the start of the year and a few afternoons toward the end of the year for testing.

We should use a robust, computerized adaptive test at the start of the school year to get a baseline measurement of student learning. We can repeat that same test near the end of the year to measure academic progress. One short, additional benchmark test might be conducted a few times throughout the year to measure math and reading progress more informally.  Or we could use only the one adaptive test three times a year, at the beginning, middle and end, making that single test both our annual assessment and our benchmark, progress test. Ideally, we will then test for less than a week of the total school year.

Those annual state standardized tests that are not adaptive in character should be eliminated. A significant portion of America’s students are getting annihilated by those tests, as state interactive report cards clearly document. Regularly being demolished by tests cannot be good for those students, especially when worried principals and teachers are practically begging students to do their best. Adults can easily push students too hard, ignoring the stress and confusion they are creating, when merit bonuses, evaluations or even job retention depend on test results.

All state standardized tests used should be adaptive in character. Students should be competing with their own past scores, not other students. If a student received a 210 on the math portion of the MAP® test in the fall, that student should be trying to push that number up to 215 or 220 in the spring, for example. Goals can be selected based on individual student situations.

A few questions to ponder:

1) What is the purpose of our tests anyway? If the purpose is to know how our students are doing, we do not need to spend multiple weeks of the school year testing them to find that out. We should not need more than one week total, with a possible additional benchmark test midyear.

2) To what extent is current testing driven by financial forces? Just as the tobacco industry has a vested interest in protecting cigarettes, a number of very large publishing companies and educational consortium members have a vested interest in protecting America’s deeply-entrenched testing industry.

3) We keep adding tests. Why? The answer to this question may be directly related to the answer to question number two above.

We are certainly working harder as we try to get ready for all these tests, but until we reclaim at least a few testing weeks for teaching, we cannot be said to be working smarter.