Robin Jacobowitz, Director of Education Projects, The Benjamin Center
KT Tobin, Associate Director, The Benjamin Center
Officials at the New York State Education Department (NYSED) just announced that, beginning in the 2017-18 school year, the ELA and math tests for grades 3-8 will be administered over two days for each subject, instead of three. The one third reduction of the traditional six days of testing for ELA and math combined, to four days, is a step in the right direction.
We demonstrated in our 2015 study titled Time on Test that the three-day administration meant that students were sitting for these tests for approximately 9 hours; the total time lost to instruction rose to approximately 19 hours when administration of the tests was factored in. We commend the NYSED and Regents for listening to, and then acting on, a primary concern of parents regarding the testing: that students are sitting too long for tests and that valuable instructional time is lost.
But we believe that there is a way to shorten even further the length of time dedicated to testing and restore the opportunity for instruction that is lost due to it. We have argued previously that the NYS 3-8 assessments are not needed for individual student evaluation. NYS school districts assess children throughout the school year in Common Core-aligned curriculum. This allows students’ strengths and weaknesses to be identified – and acted upon – in a timely fashion during that school year. Parents, teachers, and students receive this information, and respond to it, all year long. The purpose of the NYS 3-8 assessments, then, should be to measure institutional performance, to provide school and district based accountability.
This institutional accountability is important. And we can have it, if we proceed in another way. Rather than the new regime of two ELA assessments and two math assessments over four days – we can, instead, assign the two different ELA tests to two random subgroups of students within a grade and then administer those tests on a single day. The same could be done for the math tests.
Each student would take one of the ELA assessments and one of the math assessments, providing enough data to assess schools and districts overall, while reducing testing to two days in total. Except for very small places, where some modification of this approach may be needed, performance of the schools and districts can then be assessed by examining the outcomes of the two ELA exams and the two math exams.
If we are going to test our students each year – and we must, given requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act – results must be meaningful and useful. We shouldn’t waste valuable instructional time evaluating individual students, when district-level accountability is really what we need.