Teaching vs Testing

Students in the United States are likely to take an average of 10 standardized tests each school year. These tests include everything from reading comprehension to writing, math, social studies, and science.  These standardized testings take up to 2.3% of class time each school year. This 2.3% doesn’t account for the time teachers prepare students for testing through reviewing the important skills learned in previous years, going over questions from practice exams, and learning how to properly fill in the bubbles, for the few remaining standardized tests that are taken on paper.

In countries like Finland and China, students are only required to take 1 standardized test at the end of their high school careers, so why are their counterparts in the United States subjected to so many standardized tests every year?

Since the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, standardized testing became more critical for American students than ever. Under NCLB, states were required to develop their own basic skills assessments and administer them annually to all students in grades 3-8 grades, these tests were given once to high school students.  These were requirements for the schools/states to receive federal funding to help subsidize the cost of education. Schools that did poorly would have to take part in an action plan to make further improvements.

While there were certainly many positives as a result of NCLB, such as increased accountability for school districts, requiring teachers to be highly qualified in their subject areas, and school of choice options being given to parents, there were also many negatives. These negatives included teachers being forced by school districts to teach to the test to improve their overall scores.  Another huge negative was the federal government requiring 100% of students to reach grade level in reading and math by 2014 without taking learning disabilities and other contributing factors into account.

So in 2015, the Every Student Succeeds Act replaced NCLB which returned a lot of control back to the individual states, and allowed them to reduce standardized tests, cap time spent on standardized tests, and use computer-adaptive tests instead of paper tests. But while ESSA eliminated a lot of the downsides to having such high-stakes testing, students in the United States still feel immense pressure to perform on one standardized test after another.

Only 3 states in the country allow students to opt out of standardized tests for any reason, California, Colorado and Oregon. While a student won’t be punished, the school may face some federal consequences.   For students in Michigan, taking the M-Step, PSAT, and MME throughout their elementary and secondary years and possibly the MI-Access or WIDA for those in special education and English learner programs.

The question remains, would teachers be better served to prepare students for future careers vs. preparing them to take lots of tests?  If we went back to spending time teaching, not testing, would that give teachers time and focus to teach various subjects including critical thinking skills?  By learning vs. continual testing, would American students be more qualified to compete in the job market?  Would this serve to reduce the skills gap that employers are seeing?  Would we be preparing them for a successful future?