by Colleen Flaherty
Last week, the testing schedule for the spring was released for Jennie Beltramini’s Washington state school district. Students in her school will be testing from April 7th to June 11th.
“I was with some fifth grade teachers, and one person started crying,” said Beltramini, who has worked in public education for 17 years. “It shaves 51 days off the school year; it’s almost a third of the year.”
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This is not an uncommon story in school districts across the country since the last reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) — or No Child Left Behind — increased the number of mandated high-stakes testing.
As Congress discusses reauthorization this year, educators like Beltramini have come to Washington, D.C., to share what impact ESEA policies have in the classroom.
“We need to limit the number of assessments that don’t actually help students on a daily basis and take away valuable classroom time,” said Beltramini, who spoke with staff from the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee on Wednesday.
With the current testing schedule in her schools, while they won’t be testing full time for those 51 days, it still means less time for students to learn.
“If testing starts on April 7th, they have to get through a year’s worth of curriculum before then. If they aren’t done teaching by the time the test comes, students will encounter things on the test that they haven’t covered yet.”
Assessment is crucial, says Beltramini, because it’s good for educators to inform on student’s progress, and it is vital that the state and federal government have metrics for how schools are doing. However, when more than a month of instructional time is lost for tests that don’t do an adequate job of measuring student progress, the ones who hurt most are students with the highest needs.
I know some say we need annual testing because of equity reasons to see which kids are falling through the cracks and which kids are not getting an equal opportunity, but struggling students, English language learners, special education students, those are the students that need the full year to learn the curriculum. Students that the tests are trying to help are the ones the testing schedule hurts the most.
Beltramini has seen what testing does as someone who has been in public education for 17 years and as a parent. When her daughter’s results on the standardized test were so different from the assessment her teacher gave, which covered the same material, it was further proof that assessments need to be more informative and collaborative.
“Ongoing assessments throughout the year would help teachers track and monitor their kids throughout the year and actually help student learning. Now, by the time teachers get the results back, it’s too late for those kids. They might have learned from that assessment, but the kids have moved on.”
With all the challenges ahead, Beltramini and her colleagues were grateful to be given a voice.
“That teacher that was crying when she found out about the [testing] schedule, I told her I was going to DC, and she said thank you for doing this,” said Beltramini. “We have to have an educator voice. You can’t make good education policy with a real classroom perspective.”