The issue of mandated student assessment has always been a large portion of my concern with the education system in the United States. I remember first hearing about the school assessments way back in elementary school. One of the older (3rd grade) members of my carpool had to take the CAT test. Being a 1st grader, I was pretty sure she said she had to take the “cat” test. I couldn’t help wondering what was to be proved by an assessment of one’s ability to impersonate a household feline. The test obviously wasn’t about cats, but rather was the Colorado standardized test at the time (early 1990s). By the time I got around to testing in 3rd and 4th grade the CSAP (Colorado Student Assessment Program) was in place. The CSAP tests were the only tests inflicted on me. No Child Left Behind (NCLB) had yet to pass for most of my K-12 years and Colorado used the ACT as its high school assessment. When NCLB did come into effect, I was a high school junior and it had no bearing on the rest of my tenure as a public school student.
The modern world of constant testing is a mystifying insanity to me. An informative movie on the National Education Association’s (NEA) website (http://www.nea.org/home/NoChildLeftBehindAct.html) explained that before NCLB there were six mandated tests. Now there are 17. The good news is that all of this testing insanity has a chance to change in 2015. The Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA) is up for reauthorization and both the House and the Senate have passed legislation that works toward fixing ESEA’s twisted cousin and current descendent, NCLB (National Education Association 2015).
The NEA, AFT (American Federation of Teachers), and the CCSSO (Council of Chief State School Officers) all are actively working toward ensuring that the upcoming legislative result is different from the testing regime we have suffered under for the past 14 years. While all of these organizations want change, they represent different interests and do not all necessarily want the same thing from the reauthorization of ESEA.
The NEA – Is generally against the testing requirements found in NCLB. They believe that the amount of mandated testing needs to be reduced. In this vein they favor the “grade-span” testing strategy. This philosophy supports testing once at the elementary, middle and high school levels. This would be a significant reduction in the amount of testing, down from 17 to 3 tests. They also explicitly state that redundant testing should be actively eliminated, a concern I have heard raised during school board meetings as well. Finally, they believe that educators should be able to disseminate information on opt-out options with impunity (National Education Association 2015).
The AFT – Is militantly against the “test and punish” model that has been propagated by the NCLB legislation. They also firmly believe in eliminating the federal government from the business of teacher evaluation. AFT has actively lobbied both the House and Senate committees during the reauthorization process. They view their great successes in the realm of mandated testing in the House legislation from July 2015 as the inclusion of transparency in the testing policies, the right for parental opt-out and the substitution of local assessments in lieu of state tests. In terms of the Senate bill from mid-July 2015, they were able to advocate no mandated federal interventions (no closing schools) and caps on the amount of time spent on testing (Weingarten 2015).
The CCSSO –Is less representative of teachers directly and more representative of school administrators. This difference shows in the organization’s contrasting set of recommendations for mandated assessments. Their priorities for the ESEA reauthorization as of January 2015 include substantial amounts of testing. They recommend states should be required to evaluate all students annually in reading/language arts and math for grades 3-8. One high school evaluation is recommended that is “aligned with college/career ready standards.” Finally, they argue to mandate testing for all students in science once during each of these grade windows, 3-5, 6-9 and 10-12 (Meola 2015). That’s a total of 16 tests, hardly a change from the current situation with NCLB.
Other organizations such as the Common Core State Standards Initiative (CCSSI) have only general things to say about mandated student testing and do not actively comment on the Every Child Achieves Act (the name attached to the current Senate reauthorization legislation). Nevertheless, the CCSSI does offer several general recommendations about mandated testing. They think testing should be at the discretion of each state (there are no federal common cores exams) and that assessments should provide meaningful feedback to provide teachers with the information they need to monitor students’ acquisition of skills needed for college, life and civic participation. New tests developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) and the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium are working toward these types of assessments and some of them were available in the 2014-2015 school year (Common Core State Standards Initiative 2015). Colorado joined the PARCC consortium in 2012 and has implemented the tests in the past several years.
On a more global scale, UNESCO’s (United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization) outlook for learning from 2014-2021 cites concern with tests that have a narrow focus on only cognitive skills and traditional academic knowledge. They support assessments that cover more than just the traditional school content knowledge that the United States seems obsessed with testing its students on. They want evaluations of non-cognitive aspects of learning such as creativity, critical thinking, persistence, adaptability and global citizenship (UNESCO 2014). These learning aspects are essential to successful members of society and the United States could take a page out of the international book and focus more on these non-cognitive characteristics.
Overall, the state of mandated testing is constantly in flux. One piece of legislation has the power to completely revamp the entire system and to send both teachers and administrators into a tailspin as they try to cope with new standards and expectations. Perhaps the most useful change is not a radical one, but rather the slow evolution towards reduced testing where the tests that are given assess student skills needed for living in the 21st century. Testing isn’t necessarily a bad thing and the reauthorization of ESEA act isn’t going to eliminate it, but maybe it can be one step toward a future with limited, but meaningful, testing.
Common Core State Standards Initiative. (2015). Frequently Asked Questions: Implementation and Future Work. Retrieved from http://www.corestandards.org/about-the-standards/frequently-asked-questions/
Meola, O. (2015, January 9). CCSSO Outlines Priorities for ESEA Reauthorization. Retrieved from http://www.ccsso.org/News_and_Events/Press_Releases/CCSSO_Outlines_Priorities_for_ESEA_Reauthorization.html
National Education Association. (2015). Our Positions and Actions: ESEA Reauthorization Goals: More Opportunity & Learning for Students. Retrieved from http://www.nea.org/home/61944.htm
Weingarten, R. (2015, July 17). Exciting news about the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. Retrieved from http://www.aft.org/node/10489
UNESCO. (2014). UNESCO Education Strategy 2014-2021. France. Web link: http://www.oecd.org/edu/ceri/Gesa%20Van%20den%20Broek.Innovative%20Approaches.pdf