Feds now agree: Too much testing in U.S. schools. But states and districts mandate most tests.

Stung by mounting criticisms it was contributing to the over-testing of American students, the federal government released new guidelines this weekend calling for common sense in testing and a limit on time given over to exams.

Jon Krause NewsArt

(Jon Krause/NewsArt)

In its new Testing Action Plan, the U.S. Department of Education said tests should be “worth taking, fair and time-limited.” The action plan recommends states devote no more than 2 percent of classroom time to taking mandated tests.

It doesn’t appear schools are too far off that mark.

A study by the Council of Great City Schools, released in tandem with the USDOE action plan, found, “… the amount of time students spend taking mandatory tests constitutes a surprisingly low percentage (2.34 percent) of the overall time they spend in school given the amount of controversy this issue has generated. At the same time, there are clearly a considerable number of tests, and these tests often pile up at critical points during the school year. But how much is too much, and where is this tipping point?”

The USDOE also cautioned against relying too much on test results to judge students, teachers or schools, stating:  “Assessments provide critical information about student learning, but no single assessment should ever be the sole factor in making an educational decision about a student, an educator, or a school. Information from sources such as school assignments, portfolios, and projects can help measure a student’s academic performance.”

The federal Testing Action Plan generally won praise even though most of the required testing occurs at the state and district level.

“We have continued to warn lawmakers about the over-use and over-emphasis of high-stakes standardized testing that has become toxic to our students,” said Sid Chapman, president the Georgia Association of Educators. “The testing culture that has now become pervasive in public education has actually become a hindrance to our students actually learning their subject matter. Educators did not choose this profession to drill students in high-stakes testing.  They want to teach, accurately assess, and look for the light bulb to come on.”

Carmel Martin, executive vice president for policy at the Center for American Progress, said, “Through the Center for American Progress’ report ‘Testing Overload in America’s Schools released last fall, we documented there is an overemphasis on tests and test preparation in schools that does not put students first. Tests can provide important information for parents, teachers, and school leaders who need to know if students are on track to graduate from high school ready for college or career. But many students are simply tested too often, as frequently as twice per month and once per month on average. As we documented in our report, despite the widespread perception to the contrary, most standardized tests are required by states and school districts, not federal law. Although test administration takes a small fraction of learning time, tests have taken on outsized importance in schools and test preparation takes up valuable instruction time.”

Georgia School Superintendent Richard Woods said, “I am pleased that the President and U.S. Secretary of Education see what we at the state and local levels have seen for years: we test way too much. As I stated early on in my term, we must balance accountability with responsibility. That is why several months ago I called for a testing audit to determine ways we could eliminate unnecessary testing at the state and local levels. In the days ahead, my team and I will look over this proposal and move forward with recommendations to provide relief from over-testing and over-burdensome accountability.”​

The report by the Council of Great City Schools, an organization of the nation’s largest urban public school systems, offers a lot of data on who is tested and when.

The report information is based on surveys of member districts, analysis of district testing calendars, interviews, and review and analysis of federal, state, and locally mandated assessments:

Among the findings:

•In the 2014-15 school year, 401 unique tests were administered across subjects in the 66 Great City School systems.

•Students in the 66 districts were required to take an average of 112.3 tests between pre-K and grade 12. (This number does not include optional tests, diagnostic tests for students with disabilities or English learners, school-developed or required tests, or teacher designed or developed tests.)

•The average student in these districts will typically take about eight standardized tests per year, e.g., two No Child Left Behind tests (reading and math), and three formative exams in two subjects per year.

•In the 2014-15 school year, students in the 66 urban school districts sat for tests more than 6,570 times. Some of these tests are administered to fulfill federal requirements under No Child Left Behind, NCLB waivers, or Race to the Top (RTT), while many others originate at the state and local levels. Others were optional.

•Testing pursuant to NCLB in grades three through eight and once in high school in reading and mathematics is universal across all cities. Science testing is also universal according to the grade bands specified in NCLB.

• Testing in grades PK-2 is less prevalent than in other grades, but survey results indicate that testing in these grades is common as well. These tests are required more by districts than by states, and they vary considerably across districts even within the same state.

•Middle school students are more likely than elementary school students to take tests in science, writing, technology, and end-of-course exams.

•The average amount of testing time devoted to mandated tests among eighth-grade students in the 2014-15 school year was approximately 4.22 days or 2.34 percent of school time. (Eighth grade was the grade in which testing time was the highest.) (This only counted time spent on tests that were required for all students in the eighth grade and does not include time to administer or prepare for testing, nor does it include sample, optional, and special-population testing.)

•There is no correlation between the amount of mandated testing time and the reading and math scores in grades four and eight on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

•Test burden is particularly high at the high-school level, although much of this testing is optional or is done only for students enrolled in special courses or programs. In addition to high school graduation assessments and optional college-entry exams, high school students take a number of other assessments that are often mandated by the state or required through NCLB waivers or Race to the Top provisions.

Reader Comments 0

21 comments
teachermom4
teachermom4

My 5th graders test for 33 days each year with county tests (meant to keep us apprised on how they are progressing so that we know what to emphasize and reteach for the state test), CogAT, ITBS, and Milestones. It is a lot. One to two hours of testing daily wreak havoc on the daily schedule and what can get accomplished.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

How unfortunate for our state "leaders" who want to us believe all the stuff we put up with is the fault of the feds, Obama in particular.

SouthernHope5
SouthernHope5

Its misleading to say that the testing takes only "2%" of time....the issue isn't the 90 minutes of the actual test taking...its all of the teaching time and hours & hours spent teaching-to-the-test. Its nuts.  And not something that private school kids have to go through. 


also, please note that folks on this thread are criticizing "the white house" for this testing but its primarily determined at the state level.  So Georgia has to look only at itself. 

Lexi3
Lexi3

@SouthernHope5


"The White House" under President Carter, elevated "education" to its own cabinet, planting the seeds for the eventual destruction of wide scale good public education. Who else but an omniscient dictator would issue a fiat arbitrarily setting a 2.0% limit on test time?


Can't speak for all, but the Atlanta prep school that educated our children tested frequently and rigorously, and that regimen stood all of them well went they got to college.

An American Patriot
An American Patriot

Folks, a warning flag should have popped up when the article mentioned the White House as the source.  Now, to be clear, I have NO IDEA how much testing is too much or not enough; however, I do know because of all of the experience and knowledge we have gained over the past nearly seven years (OMG, it seems so much longer) that we are fairly certain we cannot trust anything if it is said by bhusseino.  This person has an agenda and that agenda contains nothing, I say nothing that will HELP AMERICA with the problems that he himself has brought on the American People. This article should be dismissed as nothing more than trying to tell those teachers unions that "here I am, I am going to bat for you" IF YOU WILL GIVE THE DEMOCRATIC PARTY YOUR VOTE ON NOVEMBER 3, 2016.  Anyone who thinks otherwise either hasn't been paying attention or is a very naive person.  It has NOTHING to do with the Education of our school children.  It's politics at it's worst.  The Only answer is STATES RIGHTS AS IT APPLIES TO EDUCATION

Me Alien
Me Alien

@An American Patriot - There is absolutely no need to give a detailed response to such a ridiculous comment. We need "testing" for anyone who wants to use the word "patriot" for their avatar name, because it is too often abused by people who don't have a clue of what it means. 

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

so seriously - all this griping about something that was taking 2% of educational time?


Dang - if that excuse gets cut, what will the bad teachers blame for their failure to actually add value with their teaching now?  Will we actually see some of them get fired, before they can destroy even more of our kids futures?

Parents & taxpayers
Parents & taxpayers

Teachers' unions will continue to oppose accountability—and in an election season they get even more attention in the liberal media because Democrats depend on unions for cash and manpower.

But accountability and parental choice are here to stay.

mensa_dropout
mensa_dropout

@Parents & taxpayers

The students who are tested the most are the ones who need instruction the most.  Last year the high schools in my county had 18 tests.  That is a test a week, and many of the students who were low were tested the most. 


High School:

SLO (for classes without EOC) pre and post tests

EOC (Six of them)

ACCESS (for ELL)

STAR (for students who struggle) every six weeks

Remedial

PSAT
AP (students who take AP Class that has an EOC also takes the EOC...go figure).

GAA (for students who are unable to communicate verbally or in writing)

CTE (for students in the career track to get a certification in a field upon leaving high school).


Elementary School:
SLO

ITBS (the only one I take stock in)

EOG (end of grade, which is different than EOC)

STAR (every six weeks for reading and math)


The EOG for little people is approximately 12 hours of testing.  TWELVE HOURS!


I think we can have accountability without draining the love of learning from our kids.  The country spends about 70 billion in testing a year.   That's parent and taxpayer money. 


As both a parent and a taxpayer, I will not be having my kids tested with the exception of the STAR and the ITBS. 

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

When you figure in TEST PREP, however, the percentage time spent is much higher.

Astropig
Astropig

Always be wary when Washington comes up with a solution for a problem created earlier by Washington. No wonder we all feel like hamsters on a wheel.

Lexi3
Lexi3

@Astropig


Wait: Why so cynical? They've promised us affordable housing, healthcare and college. It's only a few trillion dollars more around the corner.

dcdcdc
dcdcdc

@Lexi3 @Astropig oh, and their programs have helped the black community in particular immensely!  (cough cough).  Just look at the numbers of how much better black families have done since the great society - said no non blindly partisan person - ever.


Astropig
Astropig

@dcdcdc @Lexi3 @Astropig


"(cough cough)"



That cough sounds pretty serious. After you've met your $12,000 ACA deductible, you may want to get that looked at.

class80olddog
class80olddog

There ARE problems with our current testing regime:

1. End of Course tests are scheduled two weeks before the end of the course (yes, there are idiots in charge)

2. Parents want one thing (ITBS) and the state wants another and the Feds want a third

3. THE WORST - we test but we never use the results of the test - students are very rarely retained if testing shows they are nowhere near grade level.

proudparent01
proudparent01

Great article. The schools are swamped with testing. SLOs are the boondoggle that has brought an enormous amount of testing mandated by state law into our classrooms. SLOs bring a pre and post test to every single course that doesn't have mandated testing. The state of Georgia is the number one driver of testing. Georgia Milestones takes only a few hours per course per year for Language Arts, Math, Science and Social Studies. This is well under 2% for just a few courses. Remove the SLOs so districts can have the flexibility to teach students. 

Quidocetdiscit
Quidocetdiscit

@proudparent01


Unfortunately, those SLOs are now attached to the new laws concerning "teacher evaluations" which in turn are being pushed to determine level of teacher pay... I doubt they are going anywhere soon.

Lexi3
Lexi3

Not surprising. In the view of this Administration the only people who should be held accountable are cops.

SuperCelebrity
SuperCelebrity

The article states that "no single assessment should ever be the sole factor in making an educational decision about a student, an educator, or a school," yet the new proposed teacher salary will be based off the back of test scores.