by Brian Washington
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Students attending 8th grade last year in Kentucky’s Jefferson County Public Schools (JCPS) took about 45 different district, state, and federal standardized tests. Keep in mind, this does not include any teacher-designed chapter or unit tests or quizzes.
However, over the last year, educators have been working with district leaders to come up with a strategic plan focused on a new definition of what learning looks like and a goal of reducing the number of standardized tests students take.
As a result, JCPS has recently announced that diagnostic tests are no longer required by the district. And if a local principal agrees with the district’s new policy, K-12 students at that particular school will no longer take the tests. Diagnostic tests are intended to provide a baseline of student knowledge but educators say they’re unfair because they often contained information not covered yet in class.
With the removal of the diagnostic tests, 8th graders, for example, would have 16 fewer tests to take during the course of a school year.
I think this will help. It’s a good start,” said Tammy Berlin, a high school Arts and Humanities teacher in the district with 19-years of classroom experience. “I think this is going to give our students more opportunities to have better learning experiences. But to be honest, I don’t think that the district has gone far enough. We would like to see the testing load further reduced.
Teachers know what their students are doing. Teachers know what their students need to work on. We assess every day in different ways. It’s not necessary to give kids a bubble sheet every three or four weeks.
The response from other educators in the district has been similar to Berlin’s. In fact, many have said that they would also like to see JCPS do away with the 16 high-stakes proficiency exams that are required at the district and school levels and are given about three weeks after each diagnostic test.
Berlin, who also serves as vice-president of the Jefferson County Teachers Association (JCTA), which represents public school educators, says JCTA will continue to engage the district to reduce the number of required standardized tests and, hopefully, the stress and anxiety they cause.
“We’ve had elementary teachers tell us about students who would cry over these tests,” said Berlin. “It’s crushing to their self-esteem.”
Berlin, who has a 12-year-old daughter in public school, knows first-hand how over-testing hurts students.
“My daughter has been diagnosed with depression and an anxiety disorder and has had full-blown panic attacks over tests at school,” said Berlin. “She experiences a great deal of anxiety around school.”
Berlin says the goal is to ensure public schools in Jefferson County are places where every child is able to learn and reach their full potential. She wants students to have deeper educational experiences, including project-based and activities-based learning and a rich curriculum that allows students to explore the arts, sciences, history, and social studies. She also wants more authentic assessments.
“I think we are on a path now,” said Berlin. “Moving forward, we have some opportunities coming up where we can really engage our communities and help teachers provide their students with quality learning experiences.”