Fewer Questions? Shorter Tests? No Proctors? And Some Serious Questions.

It was welcome to hear that there is an effort to reduce testing in public schools.

growth proficiency

Mark Johnson released a statement today regarding testing. As reported in today’s News & Observer:

State Schools Superintendent Mark Johnson announced this week several changes that the state Department of Public Instruction will make for testing this school year that he says should reduce the amount of stress on students and teachers. Changes include state exams with fewer questions, allowing students to leave the exams sooner and easing rules requiring exam proctors.

“We will be working with local superintendents and state leaders to reform the system of over-testing,” Johnson said in a press release. “That way, we can give the teachers the time to do what they entered the profession to do: teach.”

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The number of questions on the state end-of-grade math exams, science end-of-grade exams and biology end-of-course exams are being reduced, according to Drew Elliot, a DPI spokesman. He said changes in the state’s language arts end-of-grade exams will begin in the 2019-20 school year.

The reduction in questions will shorten those exams. Currently, the exams are expected to last three hours with a maximum of four hours to finish them. Elliot said the exams will now take two hours with up to three hours allowed.

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But new rules will let teachers discuss test-taking strategies with students on the day of the test.

“Teachers can’t discuss the content of the test,” Elliot said. “But it didn’t make sense for them to not discuss testing strategy.”

Another change could end the annual scramble to find thousand of volunteer proctors. Elliot said it will now be a local decision whether a district or charter school wants to have proctors.

  • Fewer questions?
  • Shorter testing time?
  • No proctors?
  • Students can leave after taking actual tests?

Overall that sounds great. But there are some serious questions and considerations that need to be answered and fleshed out.

First, if there are fewer questions for tests, will the tests still themselves count the same amount in the students’ final grades? As of now, an EOC or NC Final in high schools counts for %25 of a student’s final grade for the course. Would fewer questions on a shorter test still carry the same impact as previous tests with more questions on a longer test? If so, that would mean a student’s final grade will depend on fewer test questions.

That’s more room for error and a shorter amount of time would be used to dictate a student’s final grade.

Secondly, these tests would still be used in determining school performance grades. Remember that %80 of a school’s performance grade is based on achievement scores – scored derived from standardized tests.

That would mean if school performance grades still look to follow a formula of %80 achievement and %20 growth, then fewer questions on those tests would mean that each standardized test question would actually have more power in measuring achievement and, therefore, a school’s performance grade.

And there could be more pressure on students because room for error would be smaller. Fewer variables would be at work.

Johnson may be claiming that this will “reduce the amount of stress on students and teachers.” In a sense, he is right. But…

… the stress of standardized tests is the effect they have on student achievement and how schools are measured. Lowering the amount of testing and not reducing the effect of testing on school report cards actually has the effect of placing more emphasis on each question on those standardized tests.

That could induce a lot more stress.  That is unless Johnson is willing to to change how standardized tests are used to “measure” student achievement. He could actually push to eliminate many of the state tests. That would reduce testing.

And he could push to change how school performance grades are used to measure schools and change the formula by which school performance grades are calculated.

In fact, he could push to simply eliminate school performance grades.

Until then, what was proposed today looks good, but needs further explanation and thought.