by Colleen Flaherty
In heavily tested grades, more than a month of instructional time can be lost to test preparation and administration in a single year. Parents and educators have spoken up—their schools deserve better assessment and more time to teach.
Luckily, there are congressmen on both sides of the aisle who are listening. Rep. Chris Gibson (R-NY) and Rep. Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) introduced the “Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act,” which aims to reduce the over-testing in schools put in place by the No Child Left Behind Act.
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“This is the first piece of legislation ever introduced in the House of Representatives that would aim to reduce the number of federally mandated tests, which allows teachers to focus on teaching,” said Sinema in a recent telephone town hall with Gibson and over 2,000 educators.
“I was shocked when I learned that, but I’m proud to say that Chris, myself and the other cosponsors have stepped up to say that this is the right thing for our kids and our communities.”
This legislation would assess students in certain grade spans and reduce the number of federally-mandated standardized tests from 14 to six, the same level of testing required before No Child Left Behind was enacted.
“What we’re trying to get away from is this phenomenon of teaching to the test, and we really want to get back to what inspired [educators] in the first place to take on the calling of teaching—your opportunity to really make a difference, to inspire, to educate,” said Gibson. “We want to put the focus back on empowering our teachers.”
In addition to limiting important classroom time, Gibson also cited the astronomical costs of testing, which the Brookings Institute cites as $1.7 billion annually for states, money that could be better spent on high-quality early childhood education, health care, after-school programs and support services proven to make a difference, especially for the students most in need.
“The other piece of this is the signal it sent to states, and in some cases that signal has led them to increasing their level of testing, all of which a burden that landed into the classroom,” said Gibson. “I’ve heard it from so many teachers all over upstate New York, how frustrated you are with this onerous high-stakes testing regime, the impact, the implications all the way across. I want you to know that we hear you.”
One educator asked Sinema—who worked in the public schools for over ten years as a social worker—if the representatives were aware of the stress overzealous testing has on students.
“I’ve seen kids come to school every day with stress in their own life about other things that they’re dealing with, so to have additional stress around high stakes testing is so much worse,” said Sinema.
The teachers are stressed too because in many states around the country, teachers are evaluated on the scores of their kids tests, even if they’re dealing with kids who have special needs, their kids are in high mobility areas or if their kids come in reading below grade level, so we know that the stakes are high for teachers and for students, and that stress compounds.
Gibson and Sinema each stressed that not only do these tests take up classroom time, they are often not aligned with what’s being taught in classrooms. They hope to reduce federal testing and instead encourage locally-driven assessments, which are a more effective means of improving instruction than standardized tests; they provide better and faster feedback that helps drive real improvements in teaching and learning.
“Our bill puts the focus back on quality instruction by reducing the number of mandated standardized tests. It’ll allow more time for classroom instruction. It’ll decrease the financial burden on school districts and allow those districts to provide educational resources that are not just focused on testing,” said Sinema.
“I believe that helping a child realize his or her potential cannot be achieved through standardized tests alone.”