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March 1, 2014
Vol. 71
No. 6

Double Take

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Research Alert

Testing, Testing

Has testing spiraled out of control in the United States? According to one study, it has. Researchers looked at the assessment inventories and testing calendars of two midsize school districts. Here are some of their findings:
  • Students in heavily tested grades spend between 20 and 50 hours annually taking tests.
  • Students in high-stakes testing grades spend between 60 and 110 hours annually in test preparation—that is, taking practice tests and learning test-taking strategies. (One hundred and ten hours equal one full month of school.)
  • Including the cost of lost instructional time, the estimated annual testing cost per pupil in grades that had the most testing ranged from $700 (approximately 7 percent of per-pupil expenditures in the typical state) to more than $1,000 (approximately 11 percent of per-pupil expenditures in the typical state).
  • If testing were abandoned altogether, one school district in this study could add 20–40 minutes of instructional time to each day, whereas the other could add almost an entire class period to each day for grades 6–11.
The study notes that these are "conservative estimates." Excluded were such items as the cost of test-prep materials and the costs associated with lost services from teachers who are assigned to administer the tests.
Authored by Howard Nelson and published by the American Federation of Teachers, Testing More, Teaching Less: What America's Obsession with Student Testing Costs in Money and Lost Instructional Time is available at www.aft.org/pdfs/teachers/testingmore2013.pdf.

Relevant Reads

Testing Wars in the Public Schools: A Forgotten History by William J. Reese (Harvard University Press, 2013)
Prominent educators decry the testing mania that has gripped U.S. schools. "School administrators spend countless hours preparing tests, calculating numbers, and compiling tables to track the academic progress of students and to hold teachers accountable. … Teachers drill, cram, and coach their students, telling them to love knowledge for its own sake while dutifully recording marks and percentages for report cards and posterity" (p. 2).
Sound like an apt description of the assessment picture in education today? In fact, this is how William J. Reese describes schools of the late 1800s, when an "education revolution" ushered in the ubiquitous uses of written examinations as part of a new era of standardization, scientific management, and governance by experts. Readers will find that this informative history puts contemporary battles over standardized assessments into perspective.

Assessing ELLs

How can educators effectively and fairly assess English language learners (ELLs)? ¡Colorín Colorado! (www.colorincolorado.org) has a plethora of tools for monitoring students' language skills, a how-to on doing informal assessment with ELLs, and resources on ELLs and writing assessment. Two videos feature experts discussing topics that range from performance-based assessment to ELLs and the Common Core State Standards. (Go to the section on "Common Core and ELLs" for more specifics on this topic.) Also featured are research reports, selected books on ELLs and assessment, and a free Parents' Guide to State Testing (in both English and Spanish).
For information on national and state policies related to ELLs, standardized testing, and accommodations, visit the Policy Issues: Assessment and Accountability section (www.colorincolorado.org/policy/issues/assessment) or the Interactive Web Resources Map (www.colorincolorado.org/web_resources/by_state), which lets users zero in on information about ELLs and testing within their state.

Numbers of Note

25 The number of U.S. states that require students to pass an exit exam to obtain a high school diploma.
16 The number of U.S. states giving high school exit exams that plan to replace this exam with an assessment by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) or Smarter Balanced.
Source: Center on Education Policy. (2011). State high school tests: Changes in state policies and the impact of the college and career readiness movement. Washington, DC: Author.

World Spin

So Who's Tech-Savvy?

In Sweden, young adults ages 16–24 topped the charts in an assessment of technology skills that was administered in 19 countries. Participants were asked to perform tasks at three levels of difficulty: to sort e-mails into folders, organize data into a spreadsheet, and manage reservations for a virtual meeting room. Fewer than one-third of U.S. young adults could complete tasks more complicated than sorting e-mails, a performance that put them at the bottom of the list of performers from the 19 countries. The study underscored the need for equality of access to technology because major discrepancies were noted among the results for young adults from varying socioeconomic backgrounds.


Watching the crowd, I was fascinated by a toddler who was learning to walk. He was propelling himself along as if he were rowing a boat. His parents watched with delight. No one said, "Bad baby, you're not doing it right!"
Cathy Vatterott, p. 38

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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