Green Laces

Testing – Is there more than there used to be?

The question frequently comes up – is there more testing than there used to be?  In fact a friend recently sent me a link to an article stating that in fact the number of tests has not changed and the implication is that those who claim there is more testing are obviously wrong.

The Common Core standards do not mean additional testing. Since 2002, federal law has required public schools to test students in math and reading once a year in grades three through eight and once in high school. As states change from their old standards to Common Core, they are replacing old tests with new ones aligned to the new standards.

Every time I hear this response, I want to stand up and yell “Wait a minute!  There is more testing!”  Testing is what brought me into the Common Core debate and I would like to explain why I believe there is more testing as a result of Common Core.

In New York State, the NUMBER of state tests has not gone up due to Common Core but the length of time that students spend sitting for tests has most definitely gone up.  This equates to more testing in my mind.

This article talks about a variety of issues associated with testing including time taken up by test prep (not really what I am addressing here but I am sure that many parents consider increased time spent preparing for tests to be part of the ‘increased testing time’) as well as how much time was taken last year (2013) in the author’s specific sphere of knowledge.  Note that ELL stands for English Language Learner which is a student whose native language is not English.

Here’s what I reported on the length and format of last year’s 5th grade ELA test:

Over the course of three consecutive days, they were asked to answer a total of 63 multiple-choice questions on two different answer grids, and eight short-response questions and two extended-response questions in two different booklets. In order to do this, they had to first carefully read and re-read a large number of reading passages.

The following week, my 5th grade ELLs spent three days taking the math exam. These elementary students were subjected to a total of six days – 13.5 hours – of testing in ELA and math.

In 2014, students across New York State spent the following amount of time taking the state standardized tests:

  • 3rd grade:  6.6 hours taking test
  • 4th grade:     8 hours
  • 5 grade:     8.6 hours
  • Some children with disabilities spent more than 17 hours taking tests this year

Testing hours

Also there are MORE tests because of all the tests that have been added due to the teacher appraisal system (APPR).  Students from Kindergarten through twelfth grade are required to take SLO tests (Student Learning Objective tests) at the start and the end of each subject/course to figure out if the student shows ‘growth’ in their knowledge of the subject so the teacher can be rated.  This article was written by a young man named Nikhil Goyal, back in May 2013 just after he graduated high school, about the SLO tests.  There are many more recent articles but I find this one from a student’s perspective to be particularly telling.  These SLO tests are not called ‘Common Core tests’ (they are considered to be local assessments) but from a parent perspective and from actual fact, they are tests that have been added as a result of Common Core because APPR was added to make sure that teachers are teaching to the Common Core State Standards.  I tend to be imprecise in my language and call everything ‘Common Core’ whether it was added for APPR or data collection or testing or the Common Core State Standards themselves because it is all part of the Common Core package in my mind.  However this allows some to try and cast doubt like the comment that the number of tests has not increased.

As a parent, I don’t care if a testing increase is due to a larger number of tests or more minutes spent sitting for the same number of tests, it is still more testing!

Since some of the confusion regarding testing arises as a result of terminology/imprecise wording, here is a terminology guide from New York State Allies for Public Education (NYSAPE) that might be helpful for parents:

Terminology guide

Testing-related terms including in the terminology guide are:  APPR, Local Assessments, SLO, Benchmark, Standardized Local Assessment, STAR, ELA Exam, Math Assessment, Field tests, PARCC, Title 1 (related to testing because amount of money received is tied to test results), Waiver, AYP – Adequate Yearly Progress, NCLB.  A lot of other information including history of Common Core and test refusal sample letters are included in the terminology guide so a read through the entire guide would definitely be worth the time invested.