How to Cure the K-12 Education System’s Addiction to Testing

Standardized testing has long been dreaded in classrooms. Teachers, students, and administrators alike suffer from the strain testing puts on the education system. On average, classrooms are spending 14 days of valuable instruction time on test preparation alone. In low-income schools, teachers report spending twice that. The average student is taking over 100 assessments from kindergarten to graduation. This number doesn’t include assessments delivered by classrooms, schools, and districts. It would almost seem as if the education system has an addiction to testing. Here are three solutions that address some of the most common complaints from teachers and students concerning standardized testing:

  1. Create Valuable Tests

One way to prevent students from testing fatigue is for test creators to remember the core purpose of assessment. Assessments are developed to collect data that should inform classroom instruction in one way or another. If the assessment is not going to influence a decision that impacts students directly, the value of the assessment may need revisiting. There are ways to create assessments that answer multiple questions to reduce the total number of tests that students are required to take. By creating valuable exams, we would also decrease testing time dramatically. 29% estimate that their students spend more than a month in total on state-mandated tests, and several tests are over three hours long. If the tests had targeted questions that address multiple data points, we could decrease the time students spend in front of the computer for testing.

  1. Use Computer Adaptive Testing

In many ways, our education system has yet to leverage the advanced testing technology that exists.  Computer Adaptive Testing is a way of testing that tailors the questions to the student. This means that the system identifies when the student is struggling with the test items and lowers the difficulty of the questions. CATs also identify when a student is not being challenged and adjusts the difficulty level accordingly. This relieves much of the stress and anxiety that affects students and teachers when it comes time to prepare for tests. About three-quarters (76 percent) of school psychologists in New York say their students experience greater anxiety over state tests than for local assessments. If states utilized testing systems that allowed for students to spend more time engaged with the assessment and less time bored or frustrated, this would reduce the test anxiety felt through the entire school ecosystem.

  1. Use one assessment across grade levels

In many states and school districts, students across grade levels are taking entirely different tests with separate scoring structures. It can be incredibly difficult and time-consuming for teachers to analyze a student’s standardized test scores from the previous year and compare them to their scores in the current year if they are two completely different data sets. The solution to this is to encourage classrooms, school districts, and even states to use the same assessment system across all grade levels. This would also track student progress across districts – meaning if a student were to move to a different school district that their time spent testing would still be valuable and usable in their new classroom.

If we are going to continue with standardized testing in America’s schools, we need to create a highly effective system that is sensitive to the needs and well-being of each school’s community. This includes reducing the time spent on testing and preparation as well as easing the anxiety that tests cause teachers, administrators, students, and parents. Finally, if our students are going to spend time on assessments, their data needs to be clear and useful for teachers and administrators. Assessments of many forms are valuable and necessary for evaluating student progress and proficiency, but the efforts of our schools to perform well on assessments should be matched in the quality of the data provided by the assessments.

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