The NC Superintendent of Public Instruction, Mark Johnson, says he plans to reduce testing for students in public schools (read more here), but a parent group, North Carolina Families for School Testing Reform remains 'cautiously optimistic' according to NC Policy Watch.
Superintendent Johnson says he plans to
- Reduce the number of questions on tests.
- Reduce the time students must sit for tests.
- Change testing policies to reduce the stress at schools around testing time.
- Work with local leaders to reduce the number of locally required tests.
- Push to eliminate tests not required by Washington, D.C.
- Give students other ways to show progress if they have a bad test day.
- Use the appropriate amount of technology as a tool for students and teachers to personalize learning and eliminate tests.
People are saying the superintendent's plan as it has been laid out is vague, and more information is needed about exactly what he plans to do and exactly what "personalized learning technology" is which he says "allows teachers to get the information they need about students’ progress without high-stakes testing." (Read more here about how the proposed changes "miss the point.")
NC Families for School Testing Reform's vision is that "students will only undergo testing that serves to inform their educational progress. Testing procedures will be evidence-based, equitable, efficient, and developmentally appropriate."
On Saturday, March 16, the group along with Dr. Jen Mangrum, and Save Our Schools: NC Families for Public Schooling hosted Testing Culture: A Community Conversation in which more than 50 teachers, parents, and other concerned citizens attended. Discussions were centered around the idea of "excessive testing and misuse of results." A handout detailed that
*the AMOUNT of TESTING has skyrocketed, taking away more and more instructional time
*many testing practices DO NOT improve overall student achievement; nor are they an indicator of overall academic success
*scores are used to assess the performance of teachers and schools - NOT STUDENTS
*MILLIONS of tax dollars go to educational testing companies for materials that DO NOT benefit students
Diane Ravitch, a noted education policy analyst and critic of excessive testing joined the conversation via Skype. She said that students from low-income families are more likely to perform poorly on standardized tests. Furthermore, too much weight has been given to standardized tests and that the
tests are often flawed and shouldn’t be used to measure student and teacher success. . . . The appropriate use of testing is diagnostic. . . . Tests today have no diagnostic value whatsoever, so standardized testing is being totally misused to judge everybody for accountability purposes and it’s not supposed to be used that way.
Let's reiterate some of the major concerns with student testing with some links for more information.
- Students are tested too much and this leads to less time teaching. (Read to Achieve is a prime example of this. In a 2015 survey of 3rd grade teachers, 81% said they spent less time teaching due to the excessive testing of Read to Achieve. It's not surprising that we now know that NC is not seeing gains from the program.)
- Testing should be diagnostic. It should not be used to determine grade promotion (like Read to Achieve). It should not be used to determine teacher effectiveness, teacher bonuses, principal pay, and school grades. (See appropriations for some of these here.
- High-stakes testing gives students and teachers unnecessary stress. (Read more here.)
- Standardized testing is not developmentally appropriate. (We demand students sit for 3-4 hours until every student finishes the test. During this time no students in the school can go to recess.)
- Standardized testing is unfair. (Read more here.)
- We spend a lot of money on standardized testing. (Again back to Read to Achieve - more than $150 million has been spent on this program that is ineffective and is still being supported by the NC Department of Public Instruction.)
So what can be done to fight testing? Some critics of standardized testing say opt out of testing for your child. This is controversial, but some places like NY have had success in changing the testing climate by doing this.
Leaders of NC Families for School Testing Reform are suggesting we contact our elected officials to tell them change is needed. Last year House Bill 986 (SB 732) was signed into law. This was "An Act to Make Various Changes to Education Laws." In this, is a section that mandates the NC Superintendent of Public Instruction study and report findings and recommendations to the North Carolina General Assembly. The bullet points listed early in this post seem to outline these recommendations. Perhaps we can contact Superintendent Johnson's office requesting more details of the study be released. We can also detail what additional changes need to be made and urge him to push state legislators for change. In addition we can contact Senator Berger and Speaker Moore and our own senators and representatives and tell them that it is time to look beyond the recommendations from that study and move forward with what is right for our schools.