Gwinnett County’s school board recently heard concern on a topic often studied and debated by parents, school leaders and teachers: the best use of testing. This time it was from a pair of high school students.
Adam Lux and Jacob Bowerman, seniors at Parkview High School, came to the school board last month on behalf of their peers. They questioned the necessity of so many tests — especially at the end of the school year.
They suggested the testing schedule can actually hinder learning because of a choice teachers confront:
“One of my teachers … put it frankly, I can either teach you what you need to know for the AP (Advanced Placement) exam to earn college credit and give you a review packet for the EOC (end-of-course exam) or I can spend valuable class time teaching you what the county thinks you should know, because that’s a completely different course,” Lux told school board members.
While he’s sympathetic to the AP students’ concern, the assistant superintendent in charge of instruction said the district’s flexibility on tests is limited by state requirements.
Passing the AP exams earns college credit. The students said they were over-taxed and over-stressed by studying for AP exams while simultaneously studying for county- and state-mandated tests. They asked the school system to consider waivers for state-required End of Course tests for seniors with good grades and attendance.
Gwinnett County does offer waivers for district-mandated tests, but state-mandated tests such as End of Course tests are out of their control, said Jonathan Patterson, associate superintendent for curriculum and instructional support.
“The Georgia Department of Education gives us a window for state-mandated tests so that the results will be back in time for transcripts,” he said. “The months of April and May for students taking AP tests can be stressful because they’re doing a lot of heavy lifting.”
Another concern of the district, Patterson said, is keeping students engaged to the end of the school year.
Once tests are over, he said, many students feel that they don’t need to come back to school. “A lot of trouble can follow students when they just stop coming to school,” he said.
To make sure students continue to come to school and to keep instruction going up to the last days, some tests are scheduled right up to the end of the semester.
Lux said students don’t know if they’ve been exempted from teacher-created finals until after they’ve already prepared for them.
Lux and Bowerman aren’t alone in their quest for less testing.
A 2015 survey by the Center on Education Policy, based at George Washington University, found 81% percent of teachers believed their students spend too much time taking tests mandated by their state or district. On average, students spend 10 days taking district-mandated tests during the school year and nine days taking state-mandated tests, the teachers estimated.
When it comes to test prep, 62% of teachers say they spend too much time readying students for state-mandated exams. And 51% feel that way about district-mandated tests. On average, teachers estimate spending 14 days preparing students for state-mandated exams, and 12 days for district-mandated exams.
Harvard professor Daniel Koretz wrote a book in 2018 hoping to convince policymakers that standardized tests have been widely misused. In “The Testing Charade,” Koretz argues that federal education policy hurts schools and students.
“Neither good intentions nor the value of well-used tests justify continuing to ignore the absurdities and failures of the current system and the real harms it is causing,” Koretz wrote in the book’s first chapter.
The cry for less testing hasn’t fallen on deaf ears. Patterson said the school district and the state are constantly assessing the effectiveness of mandated tests.
“We look at the impact on instruction and a lot of other factors,” said Patterson. “There’s always an ebb and flow and we try to spread them out. But to accurately see what students have learned, a lot of tests are at the end of the year.”
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