School testing discussed

Published 12:11 am Monday, November 16, 2015

NATCHEZ — Over the years the amount, and emphasis, of testing in schools ebbs and flows but remains a prickly issue.

Many parents and educators feel like public schools spend far too much time worrying over standardized testing.

The two men who lead the biggest school districts in our area agree.

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“With the amount of testing, it has taken away from the art of teaching and everything has been quantified to the point where we’re really teaching to get our students to pass a test,” Natchez-Adams School Superintendent Frederick Hill said.

Concordia Parish School Superintendent Paul Nelson has similar feelings.

“I’m afraid sometimes we’ve taken some of the fun activities out because we’ve dedicated so much time to preparing for the test,” Nelson said. “And I’m not sure that’s a good thing

At the end of October the Obama administration released guidance aimed at reducing the amount of time students spend testing.

In the Natchez-Adams School District, Hill said students take several mandatory tests a year.

“Most students are going to take a minimum of six mandatory tests, and it can go as high as nine in a school year,” Hill said.

The number of tests for the Concordia Parish School District is significantly lower. Nelson said students take a total of eight mandatory tests, including the ACT, throughout their high school years.

Concordia parish students in grades 3-8 will all take one test with three parts this year. The social studies portion, however, is a field test.

The time students spend taking these tests may change soon. The U.S. Education Department’s Testing Action Plan suggests limiting testing time down to less than 2 percent of classroom time.

Hill estimated that 2 percent of classroom time devoted to testing meant approximately 20 hours of time that could otherwise been used for teaching was used to take tests.

“You’re still talking about 20 hours of teaching, so that’s still a lot of time in a given year,” Hill said.

While Hill said he did not know for certain the current amount of time devoted to testing NASD students, he said he believes it exceeds 20 hours.

“A lot of teaching was put on pause because of the amount of testing that took place last year,” Hill said.

In addition to a suggested cap on testing, the plan also discussed issues including making assessments worth taking, ensuring an assessment should not be the only factor for making an educational decision about a student, educator or school and better informing parents about assessments.

Hill and Nelson both said they had personally heard few parent complaints at their level.

CPSD Director of Elementary Education and District Test Coordinator Cindy Smith said she had talked to a few parents who had concerns. She said the concerned parents were comforted when they heard what the schools were doing to prepare students.

Another challenge many educators have with the mandated tests is how quickly the testing standards change.

Nelson said tests and standards have been changing to some degree every year for the past five years in Louisiana.

“It’s very difficult for teachers and students to get accustomed with something and make sure the curriculum lines up with what you’re testing when the test keeps changing,” Nelson said.

The extent to which the new guidelines may change things for schools is uncertain. The plan is somewhat vague on some details, but more specific guidelines are expected to be released in January.

“Part of our issue, of course, is information and knowing it as soon as possible so we can make adjustments or compensations along the way for whatever we need to do,” Nelson said.

Hill said the January guidelines might be an opportunity to form policies to limit the amount of testing students face every year.

“Hopefully the guidelines will be strong enough to influence our policies on testing,” Hill said.