07/23/2013

AFT report shows the high cost of overtesting

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A close examination of two medium-sized school districts' standardized testing calendars found that kids are losing out on receiving a full, high-quality education because of pervasive test preparation and testing, according to an AFT report released July 23.

Test preparation and testing absorbed 19 full school days in one district and a month and a half in the other in heavily tested grades, making clear that cutting that amount in half would restore needed instructional time and provide additional funds for other instructional purposes, the report found.

"Testing More, Teaching Less: What America's Obsession with Student Testing Costs in Money and Lost Instructional Time" explores the instructional and financial costs of testing in 2012-13 in two medium-sized, urban school districts—one located in the Midwest, the other in the East. The report is the first of its type since No Child Left Behind became law in 2001, when state standards and assessments to measure student and school performance narrowed curricula.

"The current accountability system has led districts to fixate on testing and sanctions, has squeezed out vital parts of the curriculum that are not subject to testing, and has sacrificed much-needed learning time," AFT president Randi Weingarten says. "That is not what high-performing countries do, and it is not what the United States should do."

The AFT has called for an end to the testing obsession and for a moratorium on the high-stakes consequences attached to the Common Core State Standards-aligned assessments until the more rigorous standards have been implemented properly. AFT policy states that tests should inform, not impede, teaching and learning, declaring that America's fixation on high-stakes testing is denying children the rich, meaningful education they deserve. An AFT resolution had directed the AFT to do the kind of accounting conducted in this report.

Standardized testing has its place; eliminating it is unrealistic and undesirable, the AFT said. Educators know the importance of gauging student learning, and the AFT supports the proper use of testing and sensible accountability measures. However, cutting testing time and costs in half would yield significant gains both to the instructional day and to the budget, the report said. The AFT recommends streamlining testing with teacher input and sharply reducing interim benchmark testing.

Concerns about over-testing are leading to some changes: Texas lawmakers cut the number of high school end-of-course exams required for graduation from 15 to five. The Orchard Park Central School District in New York passed a resolution proposing that this year's state assessments be used for measuring the state's progress in introducing the Common Core standards rather than for measuring for student performance or educator effectiveness. And by a 57 percent to 29 percent margin, parents of public school children said in an AFT national poll released Monday that there is too much testing, and 57 percent said testing has taken away too much time from teaching and learning.

Based on a grade-by-grade analysis of time and money invested in testing, the study found:

Actual time for test-taking and test preparation, which just includes giving practice tests and teaching test-taking strategies:

  • In the Midwestern school district, students in grades 3-10 spent about at least 15 hours—about three full school days—taking state-mandated tests, interim benchmarking tests and other district academic assessments. Students in grades 3-8 spent at least 60 hours—about 16 full school days—preparing for state-mandated tests, the associated interim benchmarking tests and other district assessments. The district's testing calendar llustrates the testing schedule.
    Total: 19 days out of a school year taken up with test prep and testing.
     
  • In the Eastern school district, students in grades 6-11 spent up to 50 hours per school year—or two full weeks—taking state-mandated tests, interim benchmarking tests and other district academic assessments. The district also devoted 110 hours or more—about one full month of the school year—to test prep. The district's testing calendar illustrates the testing schedule.
    Total: Six weeks out of a school year devoted to test prep and testing.

Direct financial cost of testing:

  • The Midwestern school district spent more than $80 per pupil tested in grades 5-6 and grade 8, but less than $60 per pupil in grades K-2 and grade 12.
  • The Eastern school district spent between $50 and $70 per pupil tested in most grades.

Annual cost of testing per pupil—combining costs for test purchasing and licensing, costs for logistics and administration, and time costs at $6.15 per hour, per student, to account for instructional time lost to testing:

  • The Midwestern school district's annual cost of testing per pupil in grades 3-8 was $600 or more. For grades K-2, testing costs were around $200 per students. In high school, except grade 12, per-student testing costs ranged from $400 to $600.
  • The Eastern school district's annual cost of testing for per pupil in grades 6-11 exceeded $1,100. For grades 1-2, testing costs were around $400 per student; for grades 3-5, costs ranged between $700 to $800 per pupil.

Redirected time and money devoted to excessive testing could be used, for example, to focus on problem-solving and critical-thinking skills and to restore subjects not tested and/or that have been cut, such as art, music, physical education and foreign languages. The financial savings could be used for any number of instructional needs, including the purchase of assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards. These assessments will cost between $20 to $35 more per test-taker than the current $20 per test-taker in a typical state, the report said.

The districts studied and the states in which they are located differ in the amount of mandated testing time. Their testing regimes are illustrative and the rubrics used for the time and cost savings can be applied in other settings.

In an effort to focus on the broad, national issue of pervasive testing and provide as much relevant data as possible, the AFT does not identify the individual districts.

The study was analyzed by three outside experts in testing and economics.

The data for the study came from a variety of sources, including publicly available information from the districts, information from commercial test publishers and information from previous research studies on the amount of time taken up by test preparation.

[AFT press release]