Supes: Students Spend Too Much Time on Tests, But Districts Still Prep for Them

By Catherine Gewertz — February 15, 2017 2 min read
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Most school superintendents think students spend too much time on tests, but report that their districts are still investing time in test-preparation strategies, according to a survey released Wednesday.

The findings are based on a 2016 survey by the Center on Education Policy, which has been tracking educators’ views about common-core implementation. The Center, at George Washington University, surveyed superintendents in states that adopted the Common Core State Standards, and used tests that reflect those standards.

The study reflects their experience with tests in one year only: 2014-15, the first—and often chaotic—year that the two federally funded assessments for the common core, PARCC and Smarter Balanced, made their debut. The survey asked superintendents about their experiences with those tests, or any other test their states were using that was aligned to the common core.

More than 6 in 10 district leaders said they think students spend too much time taking tests, a sentiment that drove a big backlash against testing the last few years. Like many educators, the district leaders in the CEP survey said that in reducing testing, they would prefer to shorten state-required tests, and keep the ones designed by districts or teachers, which are often seen as more instructionally valuable than state tests.

The testing opt-out movement drew a lot of attention in 2015 and 2016, but as we’ve reported, opt-outs were concentrated in particular hotspots, rather than spread evenly across the country. The CEP’s survey showed only a small share of superintendents reporting opt-out rates of more than 5 percent.

Even though they think students spend too much time on tests, more than three-quarters of the superintendents reported that their districts used test-preparation strategies such as reviewing released items or administering practice tests. Nearly 60 percent of the district leaders said the average student in their districts spent a week or less on test-preparation activities. Thirty-three percent, however, said their students spent a week or more—sometimes a month or more—on test prep.

The superintendents were divided on whether the common-core assessments are better than the tests they replaced. Here’s how their responses broke down:

The superintendents also gave mixed responses when asked whether common-core tests were useful in helping them reflect on and adjust instruction.

Leaders at the Center on Education Policy said they hope the survey will help shape debate and discussion about testing as states think about their work in 2017.

“Although many districts leaders said they are using the results from the spring 2015 assessment to revise different aspects of curriculum and instruction, they also expressed concerns regarding how much testing is appropriate and how actionable the data from the new assessments really are at this point in time,” Diane Stark Rentner, CEP’s deputy director, said in a statement.

“Looking ahead, it will be important for state and local leaders to engage all of their stakeholders in a conversation about testing and how it can best support school improvement.”

“District Leadership in the New Era of Assessment,” Center on Education Policy by cgewertz on Scribd

A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.