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NCSA: Reducing Over-Testing and Delivering Meaningful Assessments

Friday, August 14, 2015 -- Ashlee Tatum-Eckley

Education Week recently released a report that the New York opt-out rate in grades 3-8 for the 2014-15 school year was nearly 20%. In a recent poll by the Huffington Post, 51% of respondents said that they think students take too many standardized tests. However, the Center for American Progress found that “three out of four parents think that it is important to regularly assess whether their children are on track to meet state academic goals.” So, in the midst test opt-outs and questions around the amount of testing in schools, one has to ask, what is the right blend of assessments at the classroom, school, district, and state level? And how do we strike the right balance?

A key theme explored at this year’s NCSA was testing frequency. More specifically, the conference’s plenary session, Testing What’s Important: Reducing Unnecessary Tests While Maintaining High Quality, focused the panel session on “tactics and suggestions around finding ways to reduce unnecessary testing time while maintaining high-quality assessments for students.” According to the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO), “at least 39 states are addressing a need to reduce unnecessary tests,” so, the question is - how do we increase quality and inform student learning without nearing over-testing?

During the panel discussion Mike Casserly, Executive Director, Council of the Great City School made an interesting point when discussing redundancy. He said, “one of the major findings that we had was around the enormous amount of redundancy in the assessments…we were sometimes seeing the same grades and subjects being tested quarterly by three different assessments.”  State and local leaders are currently exploring ways to both reduce unnecessary testing and simultaneously, maximize the use of those assessments already in place.

Early in the session, New Mexico’s Secretary of Education Hanna Skandera, discussed how New Mexico reduced testing time by nearly 90 minutes - focusing on necessity, quality, analysis, and support - while still maintaining quality. According to Secretary Skandera, by October of this year, every district in the state will do an assessment audit to ensure all assessments at the local and state level “are used and used well.” Scott Norton, Strategic Initiative Director, Standards, Assessment, and Accountability, CCSSO noted that “every test should be one that provides useful information that helps …ensure that students are ready not only for the next grade, but to graduate college and career ready.” That said, teachers are faced with school, state, and district level assessment requirements – so it’s important for educators to ask themselves whether or not a particular assessment is necessary. According to the CCSSO and CGCA, assessments should:

  • Be high quality
  • Be part of a coherent system
  • Be meaningful

At the end of the day, there are some key areas that educators should consider when looking at the breadth of assessments they are delivering: need, quality, and use. Maximizing the use of assessments really focuses on both the ways in which assessments are delivered and optimizing how results are utilized. The answer also lies in a balanced delivery of meaningful assessments. Earlier in our NCSA series, we discussed the significance of assessment literacy, which is an important foundation for delivering meaningful, actionable assessment with purpose, and a key driver in reducing redundancies.

Assessment is sure to continue to be a hot topic in education, and one which incites frequent debate. There aren’t easy answers to the questions surrounding effective assessment methods. However, with mindfulness of the issues and strategies discussed in this post and the rest of this series, education stakeholders can keep refining their processes and working towards increasingly effective assessment frameworks.

To learn more about what New Mexico, North Carolina, and the Council of the Great City schools are doing, check out a recording of the session here. Interested in learning more about how Edmentum can partner with your school or district to provide personalized, built-to-standards solutions for next generation teaching and learning? Take a look at our white paper on the Next Generation of Digital Curriculum.