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Assessment

Time for Testing: ‘Right Amount’ or Too Much?

By Catherine Gewertz — May 13, 2014 3 min read

A new survey finds that teachers and administrators are looking more favorably than they did two years ago on the amount of time that teachers and students spend on testing and test preparation.

In poll results released last week, the Northwest Evaluation Association found that most teachers still think too much time is spent on testing. But fewer believe so than in 2011, the last time the Portland, Ore.-based nonprofit testmaker conducted the survey. Compared with two years ago, in fact, more teachers think that they and their students are spending “just the right amount of time” on preparing for and taking or administering assessments.

The trend is even more pronounced among administrators. Compared with 2011, the proportion who say that students and teachers spend too much time involved with testing has dropped by double digits. Now, a minority of administrators say students and teachers spend too much time on those activities.

Which Kind of Tests?

The study was based on 20-minute online surveys conducted last month with a nationally representative sample of 1,004 K-12 teachers, 200 administrators, and 1,040 students in grades 4-12. Given the recent waves of opposition to high-stakes standardized testing, the results took some educators by surprise.

“I am surprised by it. I don’t think it’s an accurate reflection of what we’re seeing, at least here in New York state,” said Elizabeth Phillips, the principal of PS 321 in Brooklyn. After her teachers organized protests against this spring’s common-core tests, Ms. Phillips says she received “tons of emails and phone calls” from educators all over the country who oppose high-stakes standardized tests.

Ms. Phillips said her teachers don’t oppose all forms of testing; they support teacher-developed tests and other kinds of one-on-one assessments that they use often in the classroom.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten, who has called for a halt to consequences linked to common-core testing, said that the NWEA study reinforces the need for accountability systems that place more value on improvement than on “testing and punishing” students and teachers.

Survey Says

Compared with two years ago, more teachers say assessment takes up “just the right amount” of teachers’ and students’ time.

31survey C1s

NOTE: Percentages may not add up to 100 due to rounding.

SOURCE: Grunwald Associates LLC

“The study’s subtitle really says it all—'Students and educators want tests that support learning,’ ” she wrote in an email to Education Week. “Not surprisingly, standardized summative assessments are considered relatively useless to inform instruction or improve student learning. That’s why there is such a hue and cry from teachers across the country over the excessive amount of time and importance placed on them.”

Teachers and students both reported that tests are important. Half the teachers said they couldn’t do their jobs well without them. More than 90 percent of students—even at the high school level—said that tests are “very important” or “somewhat important” for a half-dozen purposes, including helping their teachers chart their progress, understanding what they’re learning, and setting goals for learning.

But responses also showed that teachers, administrators, and students all place greater value on classroom tests than they do on states’ summative accountability exams.

Ideal Focus

Seven in 10 teachers, and 55 percent of administrators, said state accountability tests take too much time away from learning. Fifty-four percent of teachers and 89 percent of administrators said the real focus of testing should be “frequently tracking student performance and providing daily or weekly feedback in the classroom,” the study said.

Nine in 10 students said that tests results aren’t very helpful to them or their teachers after more than one week.

The students’ responses showed that they get far more support when they perform poorly on classroom tests than when they turn in weak results on year-end accountability tests. They said that state assessments were far more likely to result in “no extra support.” If they did poorly on a classroom test, though, students were much more likely to get before- or after-school help, one-on-one or small-group support in class, or access to additional resources, they reported.

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A version of this article appeared in the May 14, 2014 edition of Education Week as More Educators Say ‘Right Amount’ of Time Spent on Testing

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