How can schools stop giving students bad tests?

The acting US Secretary of Education said Tuesday that the Department of Education will begin to help states streamline and improve testing in schools by getting rid of 'low-quality, redundant or unhelpful' exams.

Seth Perlman/AP/File
Tenth grade students take a chemistry test in 2007 while in class at Springfield High School in Springfield, Ill.

The US Department of Education on Tuesday called for states to find and weed out “low-quality, redundant or unhelpful testing” in their schools, and offered guidance to support the process.

Acting US Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., in a release sent to states’ top school officials, acknowledged that many students are spending too much class time taking tests, and that exams can be overemphasized or less effective than other school activities.

“High-quality assessments give parents, educators and students useful information about whether students are developing the critical thinking and problem solving skills they need to succeed in life,” Dr. King said in a department video posted online Tuesday. “But there has to be a balance, and despite good intentions, there are too many places around the country where the balance still isn't quite right.

“We hope this guidance will help restore that balance and give back some of the critical learning time that students need to be successful,” he said.

The education department’s announcement comes after President Obama requested it “work aggressively” to make sure tests comply with seven guiding principles outlined in a Testing Action Plan released in October, as well as aim to cut down on over-testing.

That action plan calls for tests that meet several criteria: that they are worth taking, high quality, time-limited, fair, transparent, tied to improved learning, and that they are not the only measure used in evaluating students.

“We’re going to work with states, school districts, teachers, and parents to make sure the principles I outlined are reflected in classrooms across our country,” Mr. Obama wrote last fall. “Together, we’re going to help prepare our kids for a lifetime of success.”

An October study that was referenced by Obama and published by the Council of the Great City Schools, a body of more than 60 urban school districts around the country, found "considerable redundancy" in required tests, as well as a general trend of testing that is "not anchored to any clear understanding of what the nation, states, or school districts wanted students to know or be able to do in order to be 'college- and career-ready.' "

The council also found that on average, students take more than 100 standardized tests throughout their primary and secondary education, totaling 20 to 25 hours of class time per year – more than the 2 percent of class time suggested by Obama.

The report concluded that a variety of causes contributed to educators being “saddled with the unwieldy, at times illogical, testing system that we have today,” adding that school systems should employ “considerable effort to recreate something more intelligent.”

King also made it known Tuesday that the Department of Education would assist schools in changing their testing procedures with availability for consulting and through the use of funds made available in the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). The ESSA is a successor to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, which first required the standardized testing of students in order for schools to receive federal funding, that was signed into law by Obama in December.

“The [Obama] Administration is committed to supporting States, districts, and schools in administering high-quality and fair assessments that take up the minimum necessary time, and reflect the expectation that all students will graduate college- and career-ready,” King wrote Tuesday.

“The good news is that many states and districts... are working to decrease testing burden on students and teachers while ensuring that assessments move beyond bubble tests to measure vital skills like writing, problem solving, and critical thinking,” he said in the video release. “We need this to happen in all states in communities.”

of stories this month > Get unlimited stories
You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Unlimited digital access $11/month.

Get unlimited Monitor journalism.