Standardized testing doesn't boost learning
Issues of widespread agreement in our unceasingly polarized, super-charged political environment are few and far between. That makes it all the more remarkable that two out of three Connecticut voters agree that public school students are currently required to take too many standardized tests, and an even more significant three out of four say that too many instructional hours are being lost to preparing for standardized tests.
They're absolutely right.
In fact, voters overwhelmingly say, according to a new survey of Connecticut residents, that classroom-based information, and not standardized tests, is the most trustworthy and accurate means by which to assess student learning, performance, and achievement. Almost 8 in 10 trust classroom-based information, such as performance and grades.
What is wrong is that Washington is stuck in a mindset of testing, testing, and more testing. But Connecticut does not need to be mired in that educational muck. It is time for state legislators to stand up to Washington and avail our schools of the flexibility that can be accessed in federal requirements.
Excessive testing in Connecticut public schools needs to end, because the current mandates are short-changing our children, limiting our teachers, and undercutting the caliber of the education students are receiving. Time that should be much better spent on instruction is instead devoted to too much test prep. That is not where the emphasis should be. Teachers know it, and the people of Connecticut do, too.
The proof? An overwhelming majority of voters - 64 percent - want their state legislators to vote for legislation that reduces testing. In fact, more than half - 56 percent - strongly support such legislation.
Such legislation can be accomplished with relatively little difficulty and significant political will. We are advocating for a series of well-reasoned steps (outlined at www.less-testing.org) that the Connecticut General Assembly can approve during the current session:
• Phase out and eliminate the burdensome Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) standardized testing of students in grades 3-8 and grade 11. It is unneeded, unnecessary and does nothing to further teaching and learning.
• In its place, substitute one of the progress monitoring tests already in use in our schools. Progress tests have been utilized for immediate, valid, and reliable results in local school districts for years - and they are a more effective and efficient measure of student progress.
• Appoint a State Mastery Examination Board, comprised of educators and experts, to identify which progress test - from among those currently being administered in classrooms - will be used.
By adopting this approach, Connecticut can return to a student-centered, rather than test-centered, approach. That is what parents and teachers prefer and what every student deserves.
Why should Connecticut act now? There is no sound educational reason to wait. Students are children, not merely test scores to be compared and contrasted. A love of learning is nurtured by a teacher, not a test. Our students deserve to love learning, and we need to model and encourage it, and follow through by affording them that opportunity.
In addition to phasing out SBAC, Connecticut should provide better indicators about how schools are doing and promote equity and opportunity for students - all while limiting the overbearing emphasis on high-stakes, standardized tests. Connecticut should move urgently toward an improved system of school accountability that is not tied to an arbitrary test score, and reduce the over-weighted amount that testing counts toward measuring school quality, from the unconscionable 90 percent to a much more realistic 20 percent.
To be sure things don't get worse before they get better, the legislature should also prohibit high-stakes testing in pre-kindergarten programs through second grade.
As students advance through school, we should include indicators of essential college and career-ready skills that testing cannot accurately measure, such as collaboration and communication skills, creativity, critical thinking and civic engagement.
These are all essential elements of a 21st century education, and we diminish their importance not only at our students' peril, but our own.
Connecticut has long valued high-quality, public education. State legislators need to draw on our collective wisdom and strengths, and turn away from policies that forced schools to swerve off course. Students and teachers need more instructional time, not less. They need fewer tests, not more.
States across the nation are coming to the same conclusion. Connecticut has an opportunity to reassert our leadership by putting SBAC behind us and moving forward.
We know better. Now we need to act accordingly.
Sheila Cohen is president of the Connecticut Education Association.