Testing, Testing, One, Two—HEY! Is Anyone Listening?

So we here in DC have test results–some preliminary numbers for the new PARCC test from SY 14-15 (high school test scores now, the rest by the end of November) and NAEP scores. Both DCPS and the charter board seem happy because the test scores, while not great overall, show a relative upward trajectory (relative is the key, since socioeconomic achievement gaps in DC’s NAEP scores have not changed since 2002).

But the real story is not what these or other forthcoming test scores are or what they signify, but that testing itself may (finally) be getting a closer look, not merely on a national level, but closer to home.

At the October meeting of CHPSPO, the Ward 6 education council, Claudia Lujan, senior policy advisor for the deputy mayor for education, spoke about the test score roll-out for PARCC and noted that because of the novelty of the test (DC’s former standard was the DC-CAS), these new scores are merely a “baseline” that cannot be compared with those on the DC-CAS from prior years.

Moreover, Lujan noted, because of PARCC’s novelty, OSSE (the city agency in charge of education and these tests) will “pause” its school accountability status for this year as will DCPS pause its teacher evaluations based on these test scores. Other measures, she noted, will be used instead.

For Carolyne Albert-Garvey, principal of DCPS’s Maury Elementary, PARCC was not merely testing students. It was also testing the ability of school staff and computer equipment, since it was administered electronically. Albert-Garvey asked Lujan at the CHPSPO meeting whether OSSE had taken into account the technical problems that students and staff encountered with PARCC. “It was rough,” she said of the lack of testing personnel at her school and the times, up to an hour, that her students had to wait to log on to take the tests.

It was also apparent at the CHPSPO meeting that while DCPS has made some attempt to ensure results from the new tests will trickle down to professional development, not much else is being done city-wide to ensure that test scores–or, more specifically, areas that such testing indicate need improvement–will result in additional teacher training or support.

Interestingly, a group of urban school administrators, including DCPS’s chancellor, recently released a report that concluded that such testing often results in little instructional value and that time spent testing is not correlated with higher test scores.

In its report, “Student Testing in America’s Great City Schools,” the Council of the Great City Schools surveyed testing in 66 urban districts (including DCPS) in spring 2014. Researchers concluded that the average student was taking an eye-popping 112 standardized tests between pre-K and grade 12, averaging about 8 tests per student per year.

“In general,” the researchers noted (p. 28), “students will devote between 20 and 25 hours a year to taking mandated standardized tests.” That number doesn’t include test preparation. Average testing time was highest for 8th graders, with 25.3 hours per school year–but even the very youngest children were not spared, with pre-K kids averaging 4.8 hours of testing in their school year.

Time for taking the PARCC alone ranged from an average of 6.2 hours for students in grade 12 to 8.9 hours for students in grade 8, with grade 3 coming in with 6.8 hours per student and grade 4 at 7.9 hours per student.

The report concluded that “the amount of testing time for all mandated assessments reflects the number of lost instructional hours for an individual student.” The report also noted that this lost time “could have even greater impact on the amount of teaching time by an individual teacher,” since some tests must be administered to each student on an individual basis by the teacher and thus represent a large amount of lost instructional time. (The report did not extrapolate to the sobering conclusion that, at this rate of testing, a child who enters school in pre-K and exits after grade 12 will sit for at least 200 hours of testing, none of which on its own ensures greater comprehension or learning.)

Not surprisingly, Pearson, the company that owns PARCC, doesn’t mention any of this on its investor page, where it notes that “education is an industry that both requires and rewards long-term investment in content, technology and new businesses.”

No matter what one thinks of characterizing children and the necessity of their education as an industrial pursuit, those hundreds of hours our kids will likely sit for tests certainly are profitable: Pearson and its investors have recently averaged over 5% per year in return on invested capital.

3 thoughts on “Testing, Testing, One, Two—HEY! Is Anyone Listening?

  1. So great to see someone bringing out the corporate/investor interest in the testing/over-testing/opting out of testing situation! Thanks very much for that. Many write of the testing industry as a whole and its “educational/industrial complex” modeled after the military/industrial complex” and cite the 7 or so billions of dollars to be had by having states and the federal government passing laws that require all this testing, but none I’ve read have brought it right down to the percent of return for the investor. That’s much appreciated by this reader!


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