February 6, 2015
As debate heats up in Washington, D.C. over the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), testing has taken center stage – particularly the number of tests required by the federal government under the current law. While some lawmakers are considering doing away with the annual grade-level testing requirements of ESEA in favor of grade-band testing (testing once in elementary, middle, and high school), many civil rights groups and others education advocates strongly support continuing annual testing. The issue is challenging. Critics raise concerns that testing influences schooling in outsized and sometimes problematic ways (for example, narrowing curriculum and increasing student stress), but the measures of achievement and growth that annual testing provide are part of current state accountability systems and give educators and parents vital information. Complicating the matter, federal policy isn’t the only factor influencing time spent of testing. District assessments contribute significantly to student testing load.
As impassioned as this debate is, the quantity of tests given isn’t the only important assessment policy issue. Getting less billing of late: all tests are not of the same quality. Many teachers in the United States believe current state tests are not an accurate measure of what students know and are able to do. Current end-of-the-year accountability assessments don’t test everything in the content standards. Often vital skills like writing, speaking, listening, research and collaboration are in short supply or missing entirely. Research confirms a troubling disconnect between what we want students to achieve and what we actually measure. Making sure that the tests students take are worth taking is just as important as how many they take.
Content standards have been raised across the country as a result of a consensus that appears to be holding firm: Students should be truly prepared for college and career when they graduate from high school. Higher standards provide the opportunity for new, more rigorous, and meaningful assessments – assessments in which educators, parents and students can believe.
It is with this in mind that The Hunt Institute is releasing its latest issue of re:VISION, High-Quality College and Career Ready Assessments. This primer for state policymakers focuses on key considerations for adopting high-quality assessments:
Alignment – Ensuring that assessments align with what students need to know and be able to do.
Delivery – Using technology to deliver better assessments.
Instructional Value – Ensuring that assessments help teachers teach.
Impact – Planning for the way assessments will influence schooling.
Taking tests will likely never be a uniformly cherished experience. That doesn’t mean that well-designed assessments with a clear purpose are not of vital educational value – to teachers, to parents, to lawmakers, and, most importantly, to students. Schools will continue to measure student achievement, ideally neither too often nor too infrequently. Regardless, the tests need to be worth taking.