Assessments need reassessment in ESEA reauthorization

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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.”

Reader Comments

  1. I began voicing concerns about unrealistic expectations being placed on my kindergarteners last year. I was told they should be reading 65 words per minute and writing eight connected sentences by the end of kindergarten. I teach at a rural school with high poverty. Many come to kindergarten not knowing any letters or numbers. Several come to kindergarten unable to identify their own name in print and unable to write. Many come unable to hold a pencil for that matter. I also voiced concerns about them sitting for over an hour three days in a row filling in bubbles on a standardized test. My administrator made it very clear that he fully supports such ‘rigor’ in the kindergarten classroom. He even has the pre-K teacher working on sentence writing with her four year olds! Now, after ten years teaching kindergarten, I have been moved to third grade.

  2. I am a special education teacher in a small country school. My students have already been identified as “at risk” so this testing is a colossal failure and does nothing but make teachers, parents, and students feel like failures because this child is a struggling learner. We are required to put all test scores on their IEP’s so when they change schools, even if they are a great student that struggles academically, the new teachers will see that this student failed and they will moan and groan knowing that those test scores will bring their school grade down. In the tiny country school where I work, our class sizes are so small that if we have one student on an IEP, we can be at 5% for that grade, if we have 4, it puts us above the national average and lowers our “school grade card.” When all those students score limited knowledge on a test, it pulls down the average for the entire school even more. We are only supposed to have 2% of our population in the severe/profound category, so if we have two students in one grade who are intellectually disabled, even if they pass their “special” test, we are still scored down for being over 2%. Some schools would only allow one child to take the special test and let the other one fail on the state test so they don’t get penalized for being over the approved percentage. Larger schools don’t worry about this as much because their schools are large enough to absorb the low scores and still get a good rating. We must go back to modified testing for Special Education students or go back to testing that is not pass/fail so at least we can show that our special students are making progress in spite of being the most challenged learners. I know the school grade needs changes at the state level, but something needs to change at the federal level because the problems it creates are forwarded to the state, which trickles down to the teachers and creates unnecessary stress and additional work that takes away from academics.

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