As we see in Florida and other places around the country, many parents and educators express concern about the amount of time spent on testing in our public schools.
This issue is important and ostensibly widespread, even though the details are specific to local school district policies. We need to examine this issue carefully in order do everything in our power to protect invaluable instructional time, encourage deeper learning and keep an eye on student stress levels.
There are two important things we often overlook when we talk about testing. The first is the critical need for reliable measures that allow us to understand how we are meeting the needs of all students—from English language learners to high achievers to children from low-income families. That insight should inform how we support individual students, classrooms, schools, districts and beyond as we work to realize an equitable educational system.
Secondly, in the midst of these efforts to examine testing, we must recognize and call attention to the fact that not all tests are created equal. Any teacher can tell you that a classroom quiz or quarterly benchmark test serves a much different purpose than a state-mandated end of year exam. Many tests, when used effectively by teachers with the training to implement them and use the resulting data are an integral part of the learning process.
Too often, we lump all tests into the “testing” bucket – ignoring the fact that assessments are not a monolith. Tests are multidimensional and multipurpose. Tests should work for, and not against, student learning. Conflation about the different types and uses of assessment increases the likelihood that we’ll lose information critical to effective instruction without a more thoughtful examination of the resources at hand.
“Testing in all its permutations, subtle and otherwise, convinces the brain that the knowledge is useful, and important,” writes Benedict Carey, author of “How We Learn: The Surprising Truth About When, Where, and Why It Happens.” Carey is also a science reporter for The New York Times, and in this article, he explores how testing itself can reinforce and build knowledge, suggesting that assessing in multiple ways over the course of the school year can set the stage for deeper learning.
By looking comprehensively at a school district or state’s system of assessments, as conversations like those in Florida have encouraged all of us to do, we can move towards a greater balance between essential accountability measures and a balanced set of resources and tests to help teachers more effectively work to advance every student’s learning.