"The whole people must take upon themselves the education of the whole people and be willing to bear the expenses of it. There should not be a district of one mile square, without a school in it, not founded by a charitable individual, but maintained at the public expense of the people themselves." -- John Adams

"No money shall be drawn from the treasury, for the benefit of any religious or theological institution." -- Indiana Constitution Article 1, Section 6.

"If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilisation, it expects what never was and never will be...nor can they be safe with them without information. Where the press is free and every man able to read, all is safe." – Thomas Jefferson

Thursday, March 29, 2012

How Much Testing is Too Much?

Last week I spoke with a third grade teacher in a local school about testing. His class had just finished taking the Indiana IREAD test and he was about to start administering Acuity.

I remembered that it had only been a couple of weeks since ISTEP was given...the first part of ISTEP, that is...the second part will come later in the Spring...so I asked, "How much time do you spend testing each year?"

I knew that the current trend in education is to test students more than is necessary. I've been writing about excessive testing for a few years now -- since before I retired. Much of it is unnecessary, it's overdone, and the results are being misused.

His response, however, startled me. I wasn't prepared for the extreme amount of testing which is actually taking place in an average classroom in our district. He started adding up the hours...

Acuity is given four times a year at about four hours each time. He went on to tick off the other tests and how much class time is spent in either administering the test or other activities related to the test -- like sharpening pencils, or moving desks (for security purposes) etc. I couldn't keep up so I asked him to add it up for me and send it to me in an email.

Caveat: This is information from one teacher, at one grade level (third grade), in one school in our local district. I believe, however that other teachers at the same grade level in our district would have similar totals.
  • Acuity - 4 times a year @ 4 hours each = 16 hours
  • ISTEP - 2 times a year @ 3 hours each = 6 hours (this is longer than the actual testing minutes but involves sharpening pencils, moving desks, passing out special snacks and so on)
  • TRC - (Individual Reading assessments) - 3 times a year per student = 30 hours. The other students are, ideally, working on other tasks. I also generally take professional days* to complete these.
  • DIBELS - at least 30 minutes per week as they are ongoing -- a total of 20 hours (this is primarily done during computer lab but I would be helping them otherwise)
  • IREAD - Once a year @ 2 hours.

If we add up the group tests first -- Acuity, ISTEP and IREAD -- as well as the extra hours for miscellaneous preparation, we get a total of approximately 24 hours.

But he wasn't done. There is the obligatory test prep -- drilling kids on questions, teaching them how to fill in bubbles, and so on. He wrote...
Add another 25 hours for test prep. This would be test strategies, getting familiar with the format, but primarily a huge chunk of review for the tests or trying to quickly cover a topic in case it's on the test but we have not had the chance to teach it yet.
This gives us a total of about 49 hours of instructional time given over to standardized testing.

The students attend school for about 6.5 hours a day. Of that time there is 55 minutes for lunch and recess. They have one hour and 45 minutes worth of art, music and physical education a week. That's 1 hour and 45 minutes total...not for each...art, music and physical education each only once during the school week -- an average of 21 minutes a day. A 6.5 hour day, minus 55 minutes for lunch and recess each day, minus 21 minutes a day for the arts or physical education yields an instructional day of about 5 and a quarter hours.

A simple calculation will tell us that 49 hours of testing and test prep comes to about 9 and a third days...almost two full weeks of instructional time is spent on these tests.

That doesn't include the time spent by the teacher on testing individual students using TRC and DIBELS. At the very least, those tests take the teacher's time during which he could be working with students. Of course, students can do assignments and work on their own, but, while testing, the teacher is unavailable for questions. At worst TRC and DIBELS add another 10 days of testing. With that added in there's nearly a month of the school year's instructional time -- lost.

It also doesn't include regular classroom tests which are much more valuable to the teacher for assessing students progress such as chapter tests, comprehension tests on classwork, spelling tests, math fact drills, etc.

When are we going to say to our political leaders, most of whom don't have any educational expertise at all, that it's too much...

When he was a candidate (summer 2007) speaking to a group of teachers, Barack Obama said,
Don't tell us that the only way to teach a child is to spend too much of a year preparing him to fill out a few bubbles in a standardized test...You didn't devote your lives to testing. You devoted it to teaching, and teaching is what you should be allowed to do.
~~~

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