Our view: Less testing, more teaching | SteamboatToday.com

Our view: Less testing, more teaching

At issue:

The increase and emphasis on standardized testing is straining district resources

Our view:

It’s time for local, state and national education leaders to rethink their testing strategy and spend less time testing and more time teaching.

The issue of over-testing in public schools has gained national traction, and at the state level, the topic is definitely getting lawmakers’ attention as evidenced by eight different bills aimed at reducing testing that have been introduced this year in the Colorado House and Senate. There’s a movement underway to re-evaluate the tests Colorado students are required to take, and we strongly support a reassessment of the standardized testing system currently in place.

Our view:

It’s time for local, state and national education leaders to rethink their testing strategy and spend less time testing and more time teaching.

Recently, Steamboat Pilot & Today reporter Teresa Ristow wrote an in-depth article on the issue of over-testing. Her reporting revealed Steamboat Springs students could take as many as 25 different standardized tests between kindergarten and their senior year, in addition to traditional quizzes, tests, midterms and final exams administered by classroom teachers. It’s apparent that the number of tests and the amount of classroom time devoted to test-taking has become grossly out of balance.

“Teaching to the test” is a term used to describe the situation educators find themselves in when it comes to the pressure of preparing students for all the tests they are required to take on an annual basis. It means educators must adjust their lesson plans and devote more and more valuable classroom time to making sure their students do well on assessment tests — the results of which are used not only to evaluate a student’s educational progress, but also to rate a teacher’s performance.

We’re not suggesting to do away with standardized testing completely. It is important that some level of testing be conducted on a regular basis to ensure students are learning and advancing their educations with the overarching goal of preparing students to excel in a competitive global marketplace. And we think there’s value in using some measure of student achievement among other indicators to gauge a district’s overall performance on local, state and national levels.

In the case of high-achieving districts like Steamboat, the required testing seems to have more limited value. Year after year, the local district performs above state and national averages, and to measure achievement, Steamboat purchases a separate assessment to create its own benchmark of achievement that exceeds the national measuring stick and provides more useful data. This means the district is spending additional resources on assessments and adding another level of testing to get the information it needs to adequately evaluate student performance.

Now that the spotlight has been directed on the true value of mandated testing, there’s opportunity to test the tests. It’s time to take a look at the number of tests students are required to take and the quality of the tests themselves. We’d like to see fewer mandated tests but higher-quality testing that provides a truer measurement of student success.

At some point, its seems as if testing students has become more important than teaching them, which defeats the basic mission of public education. There is more to educating a child than test scores. If teachers are allowed to truly teach, lesson plans go beyond rote memorization. Classrooms become creative places where students not only learn the basics, but also gain valuable skills, such as teamwork and problem solving and logical thinking.

We agree with a conclusion made in a Colorado Standards and Assessments task force report that stated, “Colorado’s current system of state and local assessment has created far too many demands on time, logistics and finances that are impacting the teaching and learning process in schools.”

There is also research to support the theory that high standardized test scores don’t necessarily lead to better cognition. It also has been proven that America’s obsession with testing its students to measure performance is not a priority shared by other high-performing countries. In fact, according to the 2012 Programme for International Student Assessment, American students actually performed far below most other developed nations in math, reading and science.

It’s time for state and national education policymakers to rethink their approach to student testing. Don’t lower the standards, but instead improve the quality of standardized tests and decrease their number. It’s time to rethink how our district, our state and our nation view public education and time to refocus our resources once again on teaching and learning with less emphasis on testing.

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