How much testing is too much? And whose fault is it?
The debate continues in Florida as across the country as to how much testing schools really need to do of students. Incoming Florida education commissioner Tony Bennett, who starts Monday, has frequently said he considers testing a key part of instruction if done properly, for it gives teachers direction on what students already know and where they need more help.
"I am a person that believes that formative assessments inform instruction. That is the reason you do them," Bennett recently told the Gradebook. Are you doing those assessments, if you are a local district, to prepare for the test? Or are you providing those assessments to inform teachers of what good instruction is and how you differentiate the instruction to meet the needs of the teachers and the students?"
From a state perspective, Bennett says, testing provides data on progress toward meeting the academic standards set for students. Like his predecessor, he suggested that the state does not mandate much testing at all. There's FCAT and FAIR and PERT, but those in theory take only a few hours from a few days of classes (if the computer systems don't fail), they note.
The rest is school or district driven. Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia plainly told the State Board of Education in December that her district pays to administer a national norm-referenced test the state ended in order to have added data showing how students stack up, Bennett noted. "She readily and proudly admitted that they double test," he said. "So, the first thing we have to ask ourselves exactly what are the state requirements."
To make that point even more clear, state Rep. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican, has filed legislation that would require school districts to publish schedules of all district-required tests after getting School Board approval for them.
It's a different approach from California, where state superintendent of public instruction Tom Torklason has proposed reducing the number of state-mandated tests for students. The LA Times reports that Torklason would end second-grade math testing, as well as most high school tests.
His plan is actually raising concerns among some California district officials who worry that they will have to pay more for their own tests to ensure they are meeting performance standards.
The issue seems to turn on the nation's continued push toward outcomes-based education, without any clear indication as to exactly how to successfully measure those outcomes. It's coloring discussions on student progression, teacher evaluations, school grades and a host of other issues. If not testing, then what?