By Andrea Dilao
While the debut of a petition about reexamining the importance and necessity of standardized testing is fairly new, the concern that students are being over assessed is not. The Falls Church City School Board has passed a petition to get rid of certain standardized tests, along with almost thirty other school divisions.
“It’s something that really started with superintendents’ organizations,” said Falls Church City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Toni Jones. “We all talk about issues that we think are having an impact on education positively [and] negatively; and around the state of Virginia, the Superintendent’s Organization, and also the School Board Organization, feel that our kids are taking an excessive number of tests to the point that it impedes the love of learning.”
Students take these tests because it’s a way for the state of Virginia to ensure that every school division in Virginia is teaching at the same standard level, and that all students are accomplishing what they need to accomplish as far as content in basic core areas. All forms of assessments, whether they’re SOLs or STAR Reading and Math assessments, give different types of data, and as these tests are taken consistently over the years, their results are valuable information to be able to review.
“I don’t know that I’m actively looking to get rid of any of them [standardized tests] because I think they provide us with some valuable information. I wish it wasn’t such an onerous task for [students] to be assessed,” George Mason Principal Tyrone Byrd said.
What superintendents and school boards are calling for is a reduction in assessments, because if the pressure associated with standardized tests were dismissed, there would be a broadening in the type of curriculum seen in Mason.
“I agree with this, I think that testing has gone too far. I think its usefulness is questionable. There’s nothing in the Virginia Standards [for World Civilizations] I didn’t already teach. I would never evaluate my students on seventy-one multiple choice questions, and say they’ve succeeded or you haven’t. And that’s the difference,” said Social Studies teacher Eleanor Hawkesworth.
The “Resolution Concerning High Stakes, Standardized Testing Of Virginia Public School Students”, which can be seen here, was tweaked and shaped to make it distinct to FCCPS, from the original that had been a basic model for all school districts. The resolution was also sent to Mason’s staff and PTA, in order to receive feedback.
For the benefit of students, as well as teachers, Byrd suggests a restructuring of the assessment process and reevaluation of the time used for testing, in addition to a greater use of formative assessments. Formative assessments are pointed, short and very quick, as well as useful to a teacher. They’re tests that aren’t given a grade, and it gives educators the chance to constantly adapt their instruction to what students really need.
“I think it’s a great thing to look into, especially if we find some more research based testing or assessing. What would be nice is having less time for kids pulled out of class time to do [standardized] testing, so that might enable maybe three or four more days of class time in the course of a year,” said Math teacher Judy Knoke.
Furthermore, some students are unfairly held responsible for standardized test results that don’t take extenuating circumstances into account. These students may have been overseas, or speak a first language other than English. Some may not have the background knowledge they are expected to have by state standards, and some just don’t enough time to learn it all since they may have arrived weeks before the test. These students are required to take the tests anyway. This isn’t appropriate because those students are held at the same accountability as students who are more prepared.
“There’s been some good things that come out of testing, but we’ve also seen the shift too far in the direction where it is now, and it’s finding balance between the two. I think there’s a lot of history that we have as an [educational] community to look at; to be able to find that balance, and get back to that spot where we’re holding people accountable and helping students learn. That’s our goal,” Jones said.
Though the resolution has passed, it’ll take some time to see changes in the testing regulations at FCCPS. “It is likely to be awhile, months if not years, before we begin to see changes in FCCPS [concerning testing]. The resolution did pass, but this is just one step in a long process. Testing in our schools is determined by state law; we can't make this decision locally. The resolution was encouraging our General Assembly to change the law. We will be talking to our legislators throughout the session this January and February and watching to see if they take action. Dozens of school boards in Virginia have passed similar resolutions, and the incoming Governor indicated during the campaign that he thought the issue was important, so we shall see,” said School Board Chairman Susan Kearney.