3 misconceptions of student testing

1. Time spent on testing takes up most of the school year.

According to the report, across 12 urban districts, the average amount of time students spend on state and district test equals just 1.7 percent of the school year in third and seventh grade and substantially less in kindergarten.

The typical kindergartener’s time on state and district testing is calculated at 2.1 hours for ELA and 1.0 hours of math annually, says the report.

Third and seventh grade students tend to have similar experiences in terms of time-on-testing, spending about 10 hours per year on mandated ELA testing and more than six hours on mandated math testing.

2. What administrators report for testing is how long students really spend on testing.

Even though the amount of time logged by administrative reports for student testing may seem low (1.7 percent on average), this data only encompasses how long students spend taking the actual test.

Teachers calculate test administration time to be more than double the length reported in district calendars in elementary grades, notes the report.

“These…figures do not reflect the many time demands that may be associated with testing such as preparing students or analyzing data,” the report explains. “However, it is an important baseline figure. It reflects the cumulative time impact that districts currently use to communicate with parents and the general public about the time students are being tested.”

In several open-ended questions as part of the report, teachers emphasize that classroom and school-based assessments absorbed substantially more time than state- and district-mandated assessments.

Also, teachers note that the quality of the assessments factored greatly into time spent on testing.

One third-grade teacher, who describes good assessments, says the assessments help—rather than hinder—time in the classroom, since “district assessments are administered to students when it is convenient to teachers during a two-week window…teachers utilize these results much more successfully than state-mandated tests. They are timely and inform teaching immediately. Instructional time is often not missed because the tests are based on the standards being taught.”

However, one seventh-grade teacher says assessments done poorly take up too much student time, as students must “practice getting into testing groups, take practice tests, etc. We also typically take time from our usual instruction to focus on test prep in the week or two leading to the test. For example, I stop teaching the novel we are reading for a week to do multiple choice test prep. Also, during the week of the test, we literally have no instruction. I would say, overall, we lose about 15-20 days of instruction to testing.”

(Next page: Misconception 3 and recommendations)