State Must Curb Relentless School Testing

State Must Curb Relentless School Testing

The following is an op-ed posted in the March 16 edition of the Hartford Courant by CEA President Sheila Cohen.

March 17, 2015

Teachers push back against Smarter Balanced testing

The driving force behind decisions affecting Connecticut public schools should be what is best for children. However, the reality is that schools have been hurt by relentless and snowballing testing that has left reason and learning behind. Connecticut can put an end to this problem, and the public agrees that the General Assembly should act.

Voters are joining teachers in strongly urging an end to excessive testing in our public schools. A new statewide survey of voters found that 67 percent say students are required to take too many standardized tests, and almost three in four say that too many instructional hours are being lost to preparing for those tests.

Nearly two-thirds of voters polled want state legislators to take action to reduce the number of required standardized tests. Why? Because people increasingly know that high-stakes standardized tests are not the most accurate or trustworthy means by which to assess student progress. Voters also concluded that classroom-based information is the best way to evaluate student performance — achievement and learning, not tests.

For more than a decade, a proliferation of standardized tests linked to draconian consequences changed the equation of what education meant, and not for the better. The testing that has overtaken our schools has its roots in the federal mandates of the No Child Left Behind Act adopted by Congress in 2001. It required high-stakes, standardized tests in reading and math every year from third to eighth grade, and then once again in high school.

Soon there were additional tests devised to prepare for the high-stakes test, and class instructional time was reduced to narrowly focus on test preparation — often by taking additional pre-tests, which in turn required even more test prep time.

All this testing has pushed education in the wrong direction. Now the public has concluded that concerted action is necessary to restore education to what students need and deserve, so that it supports student growth, and advances teaching and learning.

Connecticut can turn things around and become a national leader, reducing high-stakes standardized testing while supporting high academic standards. This approach also improves school accountability — taking a giant step forward by reporting on indicators of student growth and development that really matter to students, teachers, families and communities. We recommend that policy-makers adopt a well-reasoned series of actions that will provide new clarity and purpose to students, teachers and families.

Legislative action is necessary to phase out the standardized Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test, an unproven, time-consuming test that has provided no indication of being effective in advancing education. It takes away too much classroom time and is not developmentally and age appropriate, especially for young students. The Smarter Balanced test is a one-time snapshot that fails to provide teachers with immediate results or the ability to address students' needs.

In place of the high-stakes Smarter Balanced test, the legislature should substitute progress tests already in use in classrooms across our state. The progress test model provides an immediate and more-complete view of a student's needs, academic knowledge and growth. The result: We eliminate unnecessary, redundant testing; restore precious instructional time; provide teachers with immediate feedback on what a student knows and doesn't know; and enhance accountability through proven and student-centered assessment.

The failed status quo of too much testing is utterly unacceptable.

Now it is up to our legislators to act. Connecticut can move its emphasis back to the meaningful education of our children, guaranteeing more instructional time, academic growth and opportunity for every student.

We need to urge our legislators to allow teachers to do what they do best — respond to the educational needs of students, encouraging their curiosity and creativity and nurturing their quest for knowledge and love of learning.

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