Today the American Federation of Teachers published “Testing More, Teaching Less: What America’s Obssesion with Student Testing Costs in Money and Instructional Time.” It is an audit of the total time and money spent on testing and test-prep in two mid-sized districts given the pseudonyms, “Midwest District” and “Eastern District” and it validates what every student and teacher knows, what parents are furious over, and what legislators are quickly catching on to:
Americans are testing our children instead of teaching them.
The release of this study is also an exciting benchmark for me personally, as it the latest step in a collaborative labor of love spanning multiple states, both major teachers unions (AFT, and the larger National Education Association), policy-makers at every level, parents and students, and rank-and-file educators, all with the goal of getting transparency for taxpayers, stakeholders, and decision-makers who may often hear that “we’re testing too much” but don’t quite know what it looks like. We started with the question, “Exactly how much of an impact is testing in our schools?”
At the 2012 American Federation of Teachers Convention, the Testing Cost Audit language (Resolution 5) was introduced from the floor of the convention, motivated by the Chicago Teacher Union. The language, adopted from the New Mexico Senate Memorial 73, sponsored by State Senate Majority Leader Michael Sanchez (D-23), called for a published audit of all time and money spent on testing, as well as a toolkit to be made available for rank-and-file members to conduct Testing Cost Audit in their own districts. Earlier that July, New Business Item 82 which had similar language to AFT Resolution 5, passed in the National Education Association Representative Assembly as a grassroots collaborative effort sponsored by educators from New Mexico, Vermont, Washington, and Virginia delegations. However, in AFT, while the amendment language of AFT Resolution 5 did not pass from the floor, it was summarily adopted as an amendment to the Exec Councils Anti-testing Resolution (#2) in late summer. The report and the forth-coming toolkits for union locals are a result of the combined efforts of everyone from union rank-and-file members, to union leadership and staff. This is member-driven unionism.*
The author of the study, F. Howard Nelson, Ph. D. also conducted a workshop around how to model the methodology for studying testing in members’ own districts. Much of the information for an Testing Audit is obtainable through disctricts’ public documents including included utilizing assessment inventories and testing calendars, as well as district budgets. The tools created by Nelson are reproducible, to be put in an AFT Solution-Driven Unionism toolkit for locals planned for 2014, but members are encouraged to change and study what makes sense for their own contexts. There are already some locals who have started to develop tools, including NYSUT’s web-resource Truth About Testing campaign, and Chicago’s More Than a Score coalition. And organizations such as PUREparents have been advocating for testing transparency for years.
Workshop participants expressed interest in conducting the study in their own districts but noted that the study tools presented fell short of measuring all the conditions of over-testing that negatively impact instructional time for students. The tools differentiate between standardized tests that are mandated by states, those that are mandated by local districts, and other “interim” (practice) assessments and benchmark tests. Dr. Nelson acknowledged that while there was alot of information very accessible, there was “most likely, tests that districts give that aren’t even in [the study].”
Participants brainstormed a variety of other Testing Audit components they would want to identify for their districts such as the time loss due to testing of specialized populations including students with disabilities and English Language Learners, and the costs and time loss associated with the administration of “field testing,” exam questions, the practice of requiring students to take practice tests before the test-publishing company produces the mandated exam for that year.
The “Testing More, Teaching Less” study has a number of recommendations, including calling for a moratorium on high-stakes associated with testing, streamlining testing with teacher input, and eliminating benchmark and interim testing, but it also identifies the states’ adoption of Common Core “next generation” assessments as a way to mandate the “elimination of all duplicative out-of-date state assessments.” However, education stake-holders and decision-makers must weigh that alongside the current push-back against the Common Core from educators and legislators who see the Common Core as both narrowing the curricula and an over-reach of corporate ed-reform interests (Liberal viewpoint) and Federal government (Conservative viewpoint) as well as the announcement yesterday that the Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), one of the Common Core Assessment producers will be doubling the cost of their tests for many participating states.
In any event, this is an opportunity for rank-and-file members to do ground-breaking, locally- and nationally-relevant research that can inform stakeholders – teacher, parents, students, policy-makers, and legislators – about the the schools we currently have, so that we can organize power – people and money- to fight for the schools we need and deserve. This study and toolkit created to promote transparency in testing and test-prep is one of the necessary elements needed if we are to reclaim the promise of providing all public school students in America the opportunity for a high-quality, well-rounded and rich education experience.
*Special thanks go to Senator Michael Sanchez (D-29) and Elaine Romero, the New Mexico Education Association, the Washington Education Association and Julianna Dauble of Renton, WA, the Teacher Union Reform Network (TURN) caucus including Steve Owens and Rick Baumgartner, and the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE) including Xian Barrett, George Schmidt, and Sharon Schmidt. (2012) I would also like to thank F. Howard Nelson and Ed Muir of the American Federation of Teachers, as well as the Executive Council of AFT and especially AFT President Randi Weingarten and Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Jennings Lewis.