Standardized Testing Remains Bone of Contention Nationwide

US Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), along with 13 Long Island school superintendents, gathered in front of of Great Neck South Middle School this week and announced that he would introduce legislation to cut the number of standardized tests public school students are taking in half.  Israel says the tests are a burden on students and teachers, and his legislation will allow states to choose alternative schedules for student test-taking, according to Anthony O’Reilly of The Island Now.

The Tackling Excessive Standardized Testing (TEST) Act will be introduced to the US Department of Education later this week.  The proposal is that students in grades 3 to 8 take English standardized tests in grades 3, 5, and 7 and take math standardized tests in grades 4, 6, and 8.  Israel says that the current system of having students in grades 3 – 8 take both tests every year is an “intolerable regiment of testing”.  The bill would also allow school districts whose standardized test scores fall in the top 15% to test students in English in grades 3 and 7 and in Math in grades 4 and 8.  The bill includes a requirement to make recommendations on how to improve those school districts that perform poorly on standardized tests.

The bill would also allow students with “limited English proficiency” to take the English test in their own language for the first three years of entering a school district. And, for one year after the student enters, the schools would not be held accountable for test scores.

In a commentary published by The Island Now, the newspaper says they agree with Rep. Steve Israel about the number of standardized tests that public school students are taking, and so do most teachers and the people who run their schools.  His announcement, along with the approval of 13 Long Island superintendents and leaders in some of the most successful, creative, and innovative schools in the nation, was a good thing.  The newspaper says that Israel did not discuss the problem of federal government involvement in what was intended to be handled on the state and local levels.

“It may be that the standardized testing is making a contribution to the learning process in districts in some other state but here it has become much more of a burden than a help.”

Tens of thousands of parents across America now know that they and their children have been victimized by mandated standardized testing, says Frank Breslin, a retired high school teacher, giving his opinion in a blog for the Huffington Post.  He refers to a nationwide advocacy group that was formed last year, The Network for Public Education (NPE), which is calling for Congressional hearings to investigate the misuse of standardized testing in US public schools.

The group has a litany of questions it wants answered: Do these tests promote the skills children need in the 21st century? How well-formed are the questions on these tests? Are the tests culturally biased? Are the tests harmful to kids with disabilities? What is the purpose of these tests? Does testing harm teaching? Has the frequency of the tests increased? How much does the testing cost?

Breslin’s final question is,”Should we abolish the US Department of Education altogether to prevent take-overs of public schools by the federal government?”.

In Florida, school systems ran into technical problems administering the Florida Assessments for Instruction in Reading (FAIR) to students in kindergarten through second grade.  Because of this, the State Education Commissioner Pam Stewart stopped the computer-based tests for the rest of the year.

“This is a recognition that the statewide testing mandates have gone way too far,” said Bob Schaeffer, public education director for the anti-testing group FairTest.

The FAIR tests are just a small part of Florida’s testing portfolio.  The computer-based tests are given three times annually to help teachers modify their lesson plans in order to meet their students’ needs, reports Kathleen McGrory writing for the Miami Herald.  However, this year there were computer glitches. Teachers were told that, for now, basic observations would be allowed.  But Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho pointed out that there will be pressure to use assessments because these tests will be tied to teacher pay and other funding.

Boston Public Schools are about to become the largest district in the state to exclusively administer new online tests in grade 3-8.  This will mean dropping the MCAS, writes James Vaznis of The Boston Globe.  Tenth-graders would continue to take the MCAS as it is a state requirement for graduation.

The test is the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) on which questions can indicate how students arrive at their answers and require more critical thinking skills.