Georgia set to reduce testing, but is state cutting tests for right reasons?

As a project manager for TNTP, a national education nonprofit, Shanequa Yates helps metro-Atlanta school systems strengthen their academic strategies.

In this piece, she discusses Senate Bill 364, which is awaiting the governor’s signature.  The bill reduces the amount of testing tied to teacher performance and lessens the weight of the results in their evaluations.

The bill also reduces the number of Georgia Milestones tests from 32 to 24. Yates addresses that reduction in testing in her piece today.

By Shanequa Yates

Standardized tests are the part of our public education system that everyone loves to hate. There’s a growing consensus here in Georgia and across the country that we’re overtesting our kids—that the time and energy they spend preparing for and taking tests has spiraled out of control. Last fall, for example, a study found the average student in a big-city school system like Atlanta takes 112 standardized tests by the time they graduate from high school.

But after watching the General Assembly cut the end of course exams for science and social studies in grades 3, 4, 6 and 7 and seeing virtually no public explanation as to why those tests were selected over others, I couldn’t help but wonder at the rationale behind the decision. The main talking point was that Georgia required three times as many tests as the federal government—but said nothing of what tests those were, why they were created, or what information they tell us.

Done right, tests are essential tools for providing the education our kids deserve. They help teachers adjust their instruction in real time to fill in gaps in student understanding before they become chasms. And they give parents an honest look at whether their kids are on track—to graduate from high school, to be ready for college or a career, to have the options in life that we all want for our children.

Unfortunately, too many tests are done wrong, and not just at the state or federal levels. School districts often give their own versions of tests that essentially duplicate those already required by state and federal governments. Other tests don’t give teachers results until long after they’ve moved on to new material. Some aren’t even aligned to what students are supposed to be learning. These kinds of tests deserve all the criticism we can heap on them because they create burdens on teachers and students without providing any real educational value in return.

State lawmakers may not deserve all the blame for the testing situation in Georgia, but that doesn’t mean they’re off the hook.

If Georgia is serious about addressing overtesting, the first step is for the Department of Education to work with school districts across the state to find out how many tests are actually being given, what they are, and who exactly is requiring them. Then we can decide which tests aren’t worth our students’ time. Those are the tests we should axe, whether it’s 2 or 20 or anything in between.

As far as I can tell, an audit like that hasn’t happened yet. We have no idea which tests are useful and which ones aren’t, much less who we need to talk to about getting rid of the useless ones. By eliminating a certain number of tests without even knowing which ones are worth tossing, the legislature is essentially performing amputation surgery before they’ve even given the patient a good checkup.

This approach not only defies common sense, but could hurt our schools and our kids. In fact, considering how important science and social studies are, I would argue it already has! As a former teacher in the metro Atlanta area, I consider eliminating the science and social studies tests, or any tests that could give me and the families I served valuable data on my students’ progress in school, a breach of faith.

Aiming for an arbitrary “just right” number of tests sounds nice, but it’s not going to solve Georgia’s overtesting problem. While the existing bill will likely be signed by the governor, it’s not too late for state education officials to step back, take stock of the tests our students are taking, recommit to the valuable ones—and then figure out how to eliminate the bad or duplicative ones.

In fact, now is the perfect time. Because cutting tests for the sake of cutting them is just as bad for our students as testing for the sake of testing.

 

Reader Comments 0

28 comments
Charlotte Manning Harrell
Charlotte Manning Harrell

If a student has teacher test frequently that adds to the testing time. A careful look needs to be taken at which test are valid measures, which are really needed and why are they needed, how are the test results used to improve curriculum and student achievement. Are the students and parents given adequate feedback so that they can use the knowledge gained from testing. I think a yearly standardized achievement test, perhaps an aptitude test in early elementary, and a detailed aptitude test such as the long DAT that used to be given in 9th grade. However, unless the student and teachers get feedback and know how to interpret and use the information, they are a total waste of time. I worked in education for over 30 years.

teachermom4
teachermom4

I think science and social studies tests should be eliminated in all elementary grades. Our curriculum is written as factoid recognition bits of regurgitated information. There is no room for kids to explore areas within each unit that interest them; everyone must have the exact same information. I think that's a fine requirement in high school but not so much in elementary. If kids can learn about topics they have interest in when they are young, it creates a set of prior knowledge to build on when they get older. Right now in upper elementary school, kids get a curriculum more like what many of us got in high school. They don't remember the factoids long-term, and they have not yet developed enough background knowledge to attach the new information to. Let them learn to love history and science, build some background in it, then add to it later.


My county requires district assessments as pretests, end of the quarter assessments, and an end of year post-test, in each subject area. In addition, we have CogAT, ITBS, and Milestones. That means that my students have 33 days of testing each year. I think that's way too much. Science and social studies are information, not skill based. If kids don't remember the information, there is no time to go back and remediate. At least in math and reading/language arts a test helps you see what skills they still don't have so that you can continue to reteach in small groups. I can't reteach the Civil War just because 10 year olds don't remember who Jefferson Davis was or what the importance of the Battle of Gettysburg was, when we haven't even finished modern U.S. History, let alone reviewed economics and the importance/connection of the 12th and 17th amendments. Give them topics with choices of what to learn about, help them learn to love the content, and don't worry if everyone learns the exact same thing. Their later performance in these areas will improve, and that's much more important than what they can recall in 5th grade. Stop taking my class time away to test the bejesus out of them.

Beach Bound2020
Beach Bound2020

No offense Ms. Yates, but with a grand total of 5 years as a teacher in only one school district (APS), I am a little leery of your ideas.  Further, you now work for a company whose sole purpose is to garner multi-million dollar consulting contracts from already impoverished districts with vague promises of improving student achievement. TNTP's minimum impact can only be found in a select group of small charters in the worst performing districts in the country.


As to your ideas on a testing audit-nice thought, but really the issue isn't which test stays and which test goes. The issues is that our poor students are taught to only worry about the test grade and the teachers held hostage under this paradigm are forced to give pre-tests, practice tests, and pre-practice tests ad nauseum. I encourage anyone who dares to ask not about the actual state testing, but ask how many "simulated tests" are each child required to endure throughout the year leading up to the actual test.

Jarod Apperson
Jarod Apperson

To me it would have made much more sense to drop the SLO's than the Science & Social Studies tests. As to the bigger question, if we are spending $234,000 to educate a student (true in APS, less elsewhere in GA) and they are going to school for 16,380 hours in K-12, is 112 tests really all that much? It represents about 1% of time dedicated to testing. If schools are doing test prep that is not otherwise of educational value, that's another question of time use, but the required tests themselves actually make up a very small part of the time spent in school.

EdJohnson
EdJohnson

It takes but one step to crush a flower and arrest its development.  Similarly, if only one test crushes any number of children’s innate learning competencies, then that is one test too many.  On the flip side, if only one test drives children to “love” testing more so than learning, then that too is one test too many.

Quantification in and of itself has no memory; however, children do, and it can take only one step to plant a demoralizing memory to last a lifetime.

So neither quantification nor “data-driven decision making” is the end-all, be-all you seem to praise and worship about, for example, Success Academy Charter Schools based strictly on test scores, in spite of this…

http://www.nytimes.com/video/nyregion/100000004159212/success-academy-teacher-rip-and-redo-video.html

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

Maureen, this is the third or fourth day when we are unable to access the comments" sections of past blog threads.  When will this be fixed?  Also, any idea about fixing the repeated problems with "page not found" when clicking on posted links on the website?  I have complained about this and provided feedback, and I am sure it annoys others as well.  Seems like the IT problems are getting worse by the week!

proudparent01
proudparent01

There is no reduction in testing with sb364. Most milestones tests will be replaced with SLOs. SLOs are twice a year and arent valid or reliable. Plus there are new tests in grades 1 & 2. So let's not act like Georgia has reduced or improved testing in any way.

NikoleA
NikoleA

Amen. The state also fails at providing quality tests in elementary school. Districts are left to create their own SLOs which means students across the state are being held to different standards. And no one has the common sense to ask master teachers what tests are most beneficial to them.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@NikoleA Heavens, we don't want the state doing anymore of their bang-up jobs like they did on CRCT!

class80olddog
class80olddog

Where the State fails is not using the Milestones as a placement test for the next year - use it to prevent Social Promotion.  If a Milestone test shows that the student is reading at a late 4th grade level, put them in a 5th grade class - even if they are 17 years old.  Alternative classes and alternative schools will be needed.

Wascatlady
Wascatlady

@class80olddog And alternative ways of paying for it, since many taxpayers don't want to pay for even what we have now!

elementary-pal
elementary-pal

@class80olddog Just curious...if a child didn't get the content the first three times in 5th grade, what makes you think he/she can get it the fourth time?  Wouldn't it be a better use of time and money -for both the student and the system - to put the student in a career/trade training program? 

class80olddog
class80olddog

Let me see - 112 tests over 12 years equals 9.3 tests per year.  If you have five subjects, that is a little less than two tests per year in each subject.  Yes, seems excessive to me (sarcasm).  Of course, if we had teachers' grades that were truly indicative of learning, we would not need all these tests.  What was that Carstarphen quote " we have a student in the 11th grade who is reading at a fourth grade level.  Wonder how he made it to the 11th grade?  No wonder there is such an emphasis on standardized testing where the scores are not subjective.  Of course, then you just have to CHEAT, like APS.  Administrators dug this hole for you, teachers, so lie down in it, or get out of the profession. 

Legong
Legong

For the teachers' unions, any testing that allows parents to detect ineffective teaching remains a target.

So controversy isn't going away.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@Legong Or any testing that reveals ineffective GRADING and SOCIAL PROMOTION.  No, testing is here to stay. 

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s They just don't like tests that show their students are not performing.  Not that I blame them when the State wants to hold TEACHERS accountable for the STUDENTS' work. 

dg417s
dg417s

That's what tests are supposed to do so we can help the students.... but you are right on one thing. Tests, especially what we use now, were not designed to measure teacher effectiveness. Politicians are suddenly educational experts in their own minds once they amnounce that they're running for office.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@dg417s Who are the "educational experts" then?  The ones who socially promote a student reading at a fourth grade level to the 11th grade?  Is that what "educational experts" do?  Then I trust my politician more than these "experts".

dg417s
dg417s

To quote the past president of the teachers' union:"Let's be clear—we as educators are not opposed to tests," he added. "Good God, we invented them!"

bev1972
bev1972

The tests that were helpful to me while teaching 5th grade science were our county tests. We had a pretest, interim, and post tests (end of 1st and 2nd semesters). Teachers received IMMEDIATE feedback and were able to use test data to guide instruction. The state test (at that time CRCT) gave ZERO feedback for me to use with my students. Rather, it was more of a gateway to the next grade. So if we are talking about using testing to guide instruction and be useful for students and parents during the school year, I strongly believe well constructed district tests administered throughout the year best serve this purpose. It would have been a joy to have the entire year to teach the rather robust 5th grade science curriculum. Instead, we had to teach the entire year's curriculum before spring break. I think it is easier to develop scientific thinkers when the focus is on discovery, inquiry, labs, and scientific posters, all of which take time. Emphasis on having to score at a certain level to meet value added criteria takes the fun out of science and makes it just another stress point. The same social studies and science content will eventually be tested by Milestones since Sci/SS curriculum spirals.

class80olddog
class80olddog

@bev1972 Let me give you a hint on interpreting the test data - when your class results come back and show that 50% of your class is 4 grade levels behind and only two "D's" were given, then Houston, we have a problem. 

bev1972
bev1972

@class80olddog @bev1972 I was speaking only to science and district level tests, which are content specific, administered with great care and data used to drive instruction. We used the test results to reteach any strands that were not mastered. There are systems, administrators, and teachers who are doing excellent work.

bev1972
bev1972

@class80olddog @bev1972  No, I worked within a different system (retired now). That is a unique situation and doesn't define the rest of our schools.

bev1972
bev1972

@class80olddog @bev1972 Well, of course that would be a problem. I've never experienced the scenario you mention. Not in 30+ years teaching. However, my schools had EXCELLENT resource teachers who worked tirelessly to help students succeed. If tests showed students below level then there was an accounting for why the discrepancy between test scores and class grades. We had math and reading specialists. We had science specialists. We had before school tutoring (free). We ended up with tests counting a high percentage of student grades to prevent this problem. You wouldn't believe the extreme efforts to help our students succeed - all of which involved tons of extra time helping students and none of which involved cheating.

CSpinks
CSpinks

THE  REAL  REASON  that GaPubEducrats want to cut valid and reliable standardized testing is to keep much of our citizenry in the dark as to how poorly these educrats are educating the kids our fellow citizens enroll with them in our public school system.


ANOTHER  UNPLEASANT  TRUTH  is that many affluent parents have already seen through the educracy's self-serving game and have enrolled their kids in private schools, much to the detriment of our state's public school system and the society it serves.

GregoryM
GregoryM

@CSpinks Any evidence of that or just passing off conspiracy theory as unfounded opinion? No one who has any involvement in education, other than going to school at some time, has ever said this.The added caps do not make your statements either real or true. Is this really the first time you've understood that it costs more money to go to private than public school?