Local schools raise questions about standardized testing

RANGELY I Lately it’s become increasingly difficult to turn on the news or log onto the Internet without encountering an opinion about public school standardized testing.

Each school district has a unique testing program and the beliefs about those programs are just as varied as the tests. Rangely RE-4 schools are no different and even district Superintendent Matt Scoggins is conflicted about the role testing plays in today’s schools.
Rangely schools participate in a number of standardized tests throughout the year, some mandated by the federal government or state and some by choice.
Through the No Child Left Behind Act the federal government mandates the Partnership for Assessment for Readiness for College and Career (or PARCC) testing, which occurs every spring. Students begin taking this test annually from third grade through 10th.
In addition to PARCC, the State of Colorado requires students in grades four, seven and 12 take a social studies exam and students in grades five and eight take a science exam. Both subjects are tested via the Colorado Measures of Academic Success (or CMAS). This test is also given in the spring.
The state also mandates a formalized, standardized test be given to all students half way through the year, but they don’t dictate which test is used. In Rangely this is accomplished through Measures of Academic Progress (or MAPS) testing. While the state only requires this test once a year in the winter the district chooses to require this test of all students in the fall and spring. Colorado also requires all high school juniors take the ACT.
In 2012 the Colorado Legislature passed the READ Act, which requires additional reading assessments in the early years. Rangely fulfills this requirement through Dibbles testing grades K-3.
All of these tests provide different data and measures of students to teachers, districts and the state. However, both the PARCC and CMAS test results are slow to come in. Usually teachers are able to view and digest the data from their classrooms sometime between August and October of the following school year, while MAPS and Dibbles data are available immediately after test completion.
So how much time do students spend taking all of these tests every year? According to Scoggins it’s between 10-12 hours for each student annually. Because students can’t take all of these tests at once they have to be broken up over a period of several weeks.
In total Scoggins estimates that the spring testing disrupts school scheduling for three to four weeks.
For Scoggins and many other superintendents across the nation this is simply too much testing.
“We need to assess students, but what we are doing right now is a little bit over the top,” Scoggins said.
Despite this he believes that there are many benefits to both teachers and students in assessment. According to Scoggins both formative (pre test) and summative (post test) data can drive instruction for the future and help provide teachers with feedback about what areas students may be struggling in. It helps teachers individualize education for students, making sure they get support in needed subjects.
However, Scoggins acknowledges that this works best when the data collected from the testing is made available in a timely manner.
Of course another concern that many districts have about testing is the cost. As schools nationwide struggle with the issue of funding the cost of the testing becomes more important. In Rangely the costs include increasing technology, which is often expensive, because most of the testing is taken on computers. Additionally, the district has to pay test coordinators.
For teachers and districts these tests often come with high stakes. Colorado Senate Bill 191, passed in 2010, requires that 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be based on assessment scores.
For each district the scores play a large role in their annual performance frameworks, or grade, from the state. In a small district it doesn’t take many students not performing well to heavily impact the scores.
Local parents also have some concerns about the testing. Lyndsey Wiley, a mother of three, believes that the schools are spending far too much time both testing and being prepared to take the tests. She worries about how much real education time is sacrificed for the sake of the tests, especially the tests that don’t provide scores quickly. “One quick standardized test a year should be plenty. Not days and days of testing,” Wiley said.
Wiley also worries about the impact that the testing has on her children. She says that in the days leading up to the test her kids begin to stress and feel anxious, even losing sleep.
Each year one of the Wiley kids make themselves sick with worry the night before the big test. She believes that there is too much stress to perform well, with teachers and administrators mentioning the tests all year and emphasizing their importance.
Some parents who are unhappy with the testing chose to “opt out” their children and keep them home on the days of testing. While there are no consequences for removing your child from testing, according to Scoggins it does hurt the district.
Scoggins says that because removal of some students doesn’t provide a full picture it “undermines the value of that assessment.”
At the end of the day the bulk of the testing is done in order to comply with federal and state law. However with so many parents and schools questioning the testing, many boards of education are beginning to ask what the future of standardized testing should look like.
For Scoggins it’s a mixed bag. “Do I think assessments are bad, not necessarily. It’s how it’s used and the time impacted,” he said.