Florida has been awash in standardized testing for years. For over a decade, the FCAT has reigned in public schools, and this year students will see FCAT’s replacement, created by AIR (American Institute for Research), a D.C.-based company that beat others out for the lucrative state testing contract.
Since No Child Left Behind became federal law, every state has been required to test every child every year in third through eighth grade in math and reading, plus once in high school. And districts have added tests in addition to state-mandated ones. For schools in Florida, state tests are tied to consequences for districts, schools and teachers as well as students. Districts are adding on benchmark, practice and interim tests, and that's how they get these multiplying and ballooning requirements. The Council of the Great City Schools found that students are taking 113 standardized tests in grades K through 12.
As testing continues, so do concerns about its consequences. In a recent national poll, 60 percent of parents agreed there was too much emphasis on standardized testing in schools. And in cities across the country, those concerns are turning into a live political issue. Some are calling it a movement — the opt-out movement.
Recently, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo argued with New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio about the role of test scores in teacher evaluations. In Chicago, schools were forced to back down from Common Core-aligned PARCC testing for 10 percent of students.
In Wisconsin, however, students are not explicitly permitted to opt out of mandated testing. You need special permission from a local school board. So it is possible.
In Milwaukee, growing complaints have led to a workshop in which parents looked at the district's calendar evaluate how much testing time reduces traditional instructional time during a school year. What they found was astounding: in a 36-week school year, 20 to 24 of those weeks include testing.
Just how many tests Milwaukee students take is hard to ascertain. Seventeen standardized tests are required at the federal level, some of which may fulfill the State’s required fourteen during the K-12 years. However, local districts add English-proficiency tests, end-of-course (EOC) exams, and the like.
What for some people is too much testing seems about right for others. We live in a data-driven society, worlds apart from the school systems in Finland, for instance, where high school students do not take a single standardized test during their four years. Students in the Finnish system are consistently among the best educated when compared to almost three dozen “industrialized nations”!
Mike Casserly, head of the Council of the Great City Schools, is conducting the first-ever national inventory of testing policies in 67 urban school systems. Based on the preliminary findings, one thing is clear: "A lot of districts give tests we don't need to give, or duplicate one another."
Kindergartners are the least tested. The most tested students, hands down, are 11th graders. So much so that Florida recently eliminated 11th-grade testing in language arts and is considering cutting back even more.
Tony Evers, Wisconsin's schools superintendent, says that "If [testing is] used to punish and to put more pressure on the system — instead of tests being used to identify weaknesses and strengths in kids — we've morphed into using tests for high stakes accountability, which is ridiculous."
Congress is currently debating whether the federal government should cut back on testing requirements. For some who wish to opt out, that can’t happen soon enough.