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New Standardized Testing Recommendation Met With Skepticism

Brian Bencomo |
October 26, 2015 | 6:21 p.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

On Saturday President Obama announced a set of guidelines for school districts regarding standardized testing. The most significant recommendation was a call to limit the amount of time students spend testing to no more than 2 percent of classroom time.

It’s unclear how much of an effect the recommendation will actually have on the amount of testing that happens in school districts. Though Obama's words may inspire districts to reduce testing, the federal government cannot dictate how states and school districts conduct testing. Gary Gonzales, Assistant Superintendent for Educational Services at Alhambra Unified School District is skeptical of a reduction in testing time in light of Obama’s new guidelines.

“That’s a recommendation and the reality is that a recommendation is a recommendation,” Gonzales said. “Unless the state and feds get together and say ‘we’re gonna work collectively toward that end,’ I don’t see it impacting anybody.”

Michael Escalante, Clinical Professor at the Rossier School of Education at USC, said that blending state and federal standards can be challenging.

“One of the biggest problems has been that the direction from testing has been coming from so many directions,” he said. “Local school districts have established benchmark testing. Frequently the state has a different set of tests as well as the testing that’s required from federal compliance.”

Beginning in 1998, California students were evaluated through a series of tests known as the Standardized Testing and Reporting (STAR) program. In 2014, the series of tests was changed to align with federal Common Core standards as a new system known as the California Assessment of Student Performance and Progress (CAASPP) took effect.

Escalante said there would be many people happy with a reduction in time dedicated to standardized tests. However, he indicated that practically, it might be difficult to execute.

“They’ll just have to be more strategic in how they use that time, so that one particular test could be used to meet the requirements of the state, fed and local benchmark testing,” he said.

Escalante, who was formerly a superintendent of the Glendale Unified School District and Fullerton Joint Union High School District said he found it difficult to determine the exact amount of time students spend annually on standardized assessments.

“It’s much more complicated than just talking about the time that is spent doing the actual assessment,” he said. “It’s just as important, if not more important, to talk about the great percentage of time that’s specifically spent working with kids, teaching them how to meet the objectives of that particular assessment.”

Gonzalez is in favor of less standardized testing because of what it would mean for usage of classroom time.

“There was too much assessment going on and not enough opportunity for student-teacher interaction,” he said.

Obama echoed these sentiments in his announcement.

“In moderation, smart, strategic tests can help us measure our kids' progress in school,” Obama said. “But I also hear from parents who rightly worry about too much testing, and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test, that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning.”

Marlene Santos, the parent of a student at Manual Arts High School in Los Angeles, isn’t as concerned with the amount of time dedicated to testing overall as much as she is with the amount of time allotted to particular tests.

“From what I hear from my daughter, sometimes she has too little time. She says that she wants to concentrate, but because of concerns about time limit she isn’t able to finish the test,” Santos said.

While Santos agreed that standardized tests were necessary, she wondered how much they really helped students.

Gonzales said he would be in favor of having one standardized assessment at the end of the year to determine how much a student had learned at that point. 

“That allows the teacher to totally plan for the year to get through the standards and do all the things that need to get done, and more importantly, it allows our students to be better learners,” he said. 

Reach Staff Reporter Brian Bencomo here and follow him on Twitter here.



 

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