RELEASE: New CAP Report: Students Tested Up to Twice per Month; Common Core Assessments Help Shift to Better, Fairer, and Fewer Tests

CAP analysis looks at schools in Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, Ohio, and Tennessee

Washington, D.C. — With the debate over standardized testing reaching a fever pitch, a new report from the Center for American Progress finds a culture of testing and test preparation across many schools and districts, with students in analyzed school districts assessed as many as 20 times per year in the classroom. Despite the perception that federally mandated state testing is the root of the issue, CAP’s research indicates that districts require more tests than states. The new Common Core-aligned assessments should offer relief from overtesting by providing higher-quality tests that include more open-ended questions, help eliminate test-preparation instruction, and lead to the reduction of additional tests added by districts to compensate for low-quality state tests.

“Testing needs to be a means to an end, not the focus, in our nation’s schools. While assessments can offer valuable insights, we should ensure that tests are used smartly and teaching testing tactics becomes a thing of the past. When states use the Common Core assessments, high-quality instruction aligned to rigorous standards is the test preparation—and the Common Core means better, fairer, and fewer tests,” said Carmel Martin, Executive Vice President for Policy at CAP.

CAP’s report sought to obtain a better understanding of how much time students spend time taking tests and to identify the degree to which the tests are mandated by districts or states. The report focused on 14 districts—urban and suburban—in seven states during the 2013-14 school year. The states and districts included in CAP’s analysis are:

  • Colorado: Denver Public Schools and Jefferson County Public Schools
  • Florida: Miami-Dade County Public Schools and Sarasota County Schools
  • Georgia: Atlanta Public Schools and Cobb County School District
  • Illinois: Chicago Public Schools and Elmwood Community Schools
  • Kentucky: Jefferson County Public Schools in Louisville and Bullitt County Public Schools
  • Ohio: Columbus City Schools and South-Western City School District
  • Tennessee: Shelby County Schools and Knox County Schools

Key takeaways from CAP’s analysis include:

  • Districts require more tests than states: Students across all grade spans take more district tests than state assessments. Students in grades K-2 are tested three times as much on district exams as state exams, and high school students are tested twice as much on district exams.
  • Students are tested up to twice per month, leading to the rise of test-preparation culture: Students are tested as frequently as twice per month and an average of once per month. CAP’s analysis found that students take as many as 20 standardized assessments per year and an average of 10 tests in grades 3-8. While CAP found that students spend only an average of 1.6 percent of instructional time actually taking tests, a culture has arisen in some states and districts that places a premium on testing over learning.
  • There is a lack of transparency around testing: While parents may know when their children are being tested, the purposes of the tests, whether the state or district requires the tests, and how much time tests take may not always be clear from the information that districts provide.

CAP outlines a series of recommendations for improving test procedures and moving away from teaching to the test and the culture of overtesting that is occurring in schools and districts across the country, including:

  • Continue implementation of the Common Core: States should continue moving forward with the implementation of the Common Core, which will allow schools to use better and fairer tests, while reducing the need for duplicative or unnecessary assessments.
  • Provide guidance and technical assistance for districts: States should provide stronger guidance to districts about when and how to use standardized assessments so that they do not require duplicative or unnecessary assessments. States should help districts identify ways to streamline their testing schedules so districts do not impose an unfair testing burden on students.
  • Improve consultation with teachers and increase transparency for families: Districts should consult with teachers about the assessments that they find useful to their instructional practice when critically evaluating their portfolio of assessments and determining which tests to keep or eliminate. Additionally, parents and the community should be informed of all district and state tests, including when they are scheduled to occur, their purpose, their administration time, and whether they are required by the state or district.
  • Eliminate test-preparation practices and activities: District and school leaders should refrain from test preparation and other practices and activities that may increase test anxiety. High-quality instruction aligned to rigorous academic standards will serve as proper test preparation.

Click here to read “Testing Overload in America’s Schools.”

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Allison Preiss at apreiss@americanprogress.org or 202.478.6331.

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