A study done for state Department of Education has found significant worries about the burden of state and district testing but reported somewhat mixed views about the details of what should be done next.
Educators, administrators and parents who were surveyed for the study generally agreed that last spring’s round of testing went better than anticipated and produced limited difficulties, especially for students. There was agreement that schools need more computers and other devices for online tests, and that the number and length of tests should be trimmed.
“They want fewer, shorter tests,” Sheila Arredondo, one of the researchers who worked on the study, told the State Board of Education during a briefing last week.
There was less agreement on how to accomplish those things, and there were significant differences of opinion among urban, suburban and rural districts.
The State Standards and Assessments Task Force will be briefed on the study today. The review was launched late last year by CDE as public and legislative concerns about testing were building ahead of the full launch of new online tests in 2015. The task force subsequently was created by the legislature. (Get more details on the group here.)
WestEd, a California-based education-consulting organization, did the review at no cost to the state. (WestEd and similar regional comprehensive centers around the nation are federally funded.)
The study was designed to gauge educator and parent attitudes about tests and was not intended to review the content of state academic standards or tests nor provide a cost-benefit analysis of assessments.
In a first phase, researchers conducted 11 focus groups and did a survey of district testing coordinators last winter and spring before the start of annual testing, which this year included new online social studies and science tests and practice PARCC tests in 96 districts.
In the second phase, after testing was finished, researchers had follow-up conversations and interviews, conducted another focus group and re-surveyed district assessment coordinators. Out of 178 school districts, 87 coordinators completed the nine-question survey, 72 percent of those from rural districts, 14 urban and 13 percent suburban.
A report summary cautioned, “Results may not generalize to the larger population. Districts [were] weighted equally – rather than by student enrollment, thus views of rural districts with small student populations have proportionally higher impact on results.”
What the survey found
Here’s the report’s top-level summary of the feedback received about options for changing the testing system:
- Online testing – Don’t revert to paper-and-pencil tests.
- Technology – Districts need emergency funds to buy more computers, laptops and tablets.
- Length of assessments – There’s strong support for fewer, shorter tests.
- Number of tests – There’s also substantial support for optional school readiness tests and reduction of testing to federal minimum requirements – basically language arts and math tests from 3rd to 9th grade and once in high school.
Surveyors posed several questions and suggestions to district testing coordinators during the second round of work. Here’s a summary of the responses to key questions. Respondents were given four test-reduction options and asked to rate each on a five-step scale.
- Technology readiness – The top priority for respondents was emergency funding to buy more computers and devices.
- Amount of testing – Some 45 percent “strongly” supported elimination of new school readiness evaluations, followed by 43 percent in strong support of cutting Colorado testing back to only what the federal government requires.
- Length of tests – Some 46 percent strongly supported shortening social studies tests while 43 percent had the sentiment about language arts and math tests.
- Top concern – Asked to rank the biggest testing implementation issues for primary and secondary schools, respondents listed “too many assessments” as the top concern.
People who were surveyed also were asked yes-no-neutral questions on other issues, including:
- Flexibility – Allow districts to give English tests online but math tests on paper if they choose. 38 percent support, 37 percent oppose, 25 percent neutral.
- Third-grade tests – Give paper-and-pencil tests to students in 3rd grade, the first year students take standardized tests. 43 percent support, 39 percent oppose, 18 percent neutral.
- High school test reduction – Eliminate all high school standardized testing expect ACT. 46 percent support, 40 percent oppose, 14 percent neutral.
- High school test timing – Give science and social studies tests in different years, rather than both in 12th grade. 65 percent support, 13 percent oppose, 22 percent neutral.
See details on responses here:
The testing task force is assigned to make recommendations to the legislature on a variety of testing issues. During their discussion last week, members of the State Board expressed interest in making their own suggestions, and testing is expected to again be a major focus for the board at its September meeting.