3. All districts spend roughly the same amount of time on testing.

Researchers in the report found that urban districts spend, on average, more time than their suburban counterparts on testing, with suburban districts averaging less than 1.3 percent of the school year on testing, compared to 1.7 for urban districts.

Also, the variation in test time across urban districts is large, with high-test districts spending five times as much time on testing as low-test districts.

For example, kindergarten testing is highest in Atlanta, Ga., at 10 hours; whereas Shelby County, Tenn., spends zero hours on testing.

Testing for third-graders is highest in Cleveland, OH, at 25 hours; whereas Chicago, Ill., spends only 5.1 hours. Testing for seventh grade is highest in Houston, TX, at 25 hours; whereas Chicago again spends only 5.1 hours.

“Consider that the typical students in the district with the most testing in our sample, Denver, will have about 159.4 hours of math and ELA testing by the time he/she finishes the eighth grade,” emphasizes the report. “By comparison, the typical student in Chicago will have had just 38.8 hours of math and ELA testing.”

“The difference of about 120 hours, after nine school years, amounts to about 22 instructional days, or more than four weeks of school,” continued the report.

How to improve the discussion on testing

Teach Plus lists several policy recommendations to focus on what it considers to be the real issues of student testing:

  • Shift the debate from global to local: According to the report, the research shows that the tests that take up the most time are not the state tests administered in response to federal requirements, but district tests. “Individual districts should evaluate their current testing regime,” says the report.
  • Work with teachers to streamline testing in high-test districts: Districts at the higher-end of the testing spectrum should commit to “ensuring that their students are not shortchanged on instructional time and should streamline testing requirements,” explains the report. “As a first step, they should ask teachers which district-mandated tests are useful—and which aren’t.”
  • Focus on test content over test time.
  • Recognize that some of the test features teachers value take time: Constructed response items, essays, and other assignments of higher-order thinking take longer than simple multiple choice test items, yet teachers want the data they provide, says the report.
  • Proceed with Common Core implementation, recognizing that long-term gain will exceed short-term pain.
  • Report test time in ways that better reflect teachers reality, especially in the elementary grades.

For more detailed information on student testing and the report’s findings, read the report.