Columbus Teacher: Required Tests Aren’t Worth The Lost Time In Classroom

This letter to the editor appeared in the Columbus Dispatch on Saturday, March 8th.

2064177274_1741a97dd3_m.jpgAs a middle-school Pre-Algebra and Algebra I teacher, I strongly agree with the teachers’ concerns expressed in the Feb. 13 Dispatch article “Teachers disgruntled over volume of tests.” However, some of the information was incomplete or inaccurate.

Not only elementary but also middle-school students were subjected to taking the full-length (2.5 hours per subject) practice Ohio Achievement Tests to prepare for the real tests in April. They had already done a week of half-length practice tests in September.

In January, eighth-graders were required to take tests in all four academic areas, immediately after completing a week of quarterly assessments in the same subjects. When I informed my homeroom of this Columbus City School District requirement, one young man pleaded, “Don’t they know we’re tired of taking tests?”

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I disagree with the assertion by Pete Maneff, the Columbus district’s executive director of high-school curriculum, that each quarterly assessment “takes about 50 minutes.” On the quarterly math tests there are 21 problems, including two extended-response questions. Students are expected to spend 10 to 15 minutes on each of those two questions, and they are taught to read all questions carefully, using a variety of time-consuming strategies to focus on the meaning of the problems.

Typically, my students take two 40-minute periods to complete the test, but I have many conscientious students who use three periods to do their best work. In addition to the instructional time lost to actual test administration, little meaningful learning can occur during the rest of these test days because of shortened class periods and the negative atmosphere that results from disrupted schedules and students’ pent-up frustration.

Teachers are expected to make the reading and grading of the open-response questions their first priority so that the data are available shortly after the test administration. Grading two of these questions for 160 to 180 students takes four to six hours. On the full-length practice Ohio Achievement Test, there are six open-response questions to be graded.

If teachers devote this much time to grading these tests, little time is left for our primary responsibilities: thoughtful lesson-planning, helping students, timely parent communication and the normal evaluation of student work on assignments and tests.

The value of all this testing is dubious and not worth the instructional trade-off. In theory, the tests could provide useful information to both teachers and administrators.

In reality, the data are unreliable and predictable. Taking an assessment during the last week of each quarter, a week that was intended for instruction, guarantees that students will not have had time to learn all the concepts in a developmentally appropriate manner.

Ultimately, it is the students and their families who once again bear the negative consequences of district decisions.

Monroe Traditional Middle School