Letter: Excessive testing costly for students

To the editor:

Testing was once what came at the end of learning. Now it seems as if it is the beginning, middle and end of the school experience for students.

This year’s ISTEP will be between nine and 12 hours in length including practice and stress tests. The ISTEP is just the loudest star in the constellation of the testing galaxy.

Students also take, among others, the NAEP, Acuity, CogATs, WIDA, CORE tests — along with regular content area tests. The average student could easily spend more than 25 hours per year testing.

A student who requires testing accommodations — the most common being extended time — could spend twice that amount of time. This is more than a week of lost instructional time.

What distinguishes high-stakes tests like the ISTEP is that given all of the time invested, there is very little return. Students take the test in the spring, and final results are not typically available until summer.

This year’s results are not expected until fall. Thus the data gained during the test no longer fits the student by the time it becomes available to educators. This means the data is used to measure schools and teachers but provides little real time data for students.

Those who endure all of the anxiety associated with the testing derive little benefit from the testing data itself.

The high-stakes nature of the test combined with the gap in feedback creates a disconnect in students. Testing becomes something that is important in a remote, adult kind of way rather than in a meaningful, student-centered kind of way.

When Education Secretary Arne Duncan suggested we could “… look every second-grader in the eye and say ‘You’re on target to go to a good college or you’re not’” on the basis of educational testing, some parents recognized another kind of disconnect. “My child is not college and career ready, because he is a child,” suggested parent Cathy Fuentes-Rohwert at a February Rally at the Indiana Statehouse.

There are better, equally meaningful ways to collect data. In lieu of high-stakes testing, students could be measured using sample testing like the National Assessment of Educational Progress.

As technology improves students could be monitored using what Professor Valerie Shute calls stealth assessment — gathering data from software used over the course of a year. Other countries have employed multiple measures, portfolio-based assessments, even school visits to help evaluate educational performance.

Students deserve a better testing experience. Nationwide estimates rate the cost of testing as high as $1.7 billion.

The Washington Post reported excessive testing makes schooling less engaging and creative; de-professionalizes teachers and teaching; abandons our past pursuit of learning that fully encompasses arts, music, social studies, and science; and marginalizes values and skills that help students develop the ability to cooperate, solve problems, reason, make sound judgments and function effectively as democratic citizens.

The 2016 ISTEP is projected to cost taxpayers $65 million. What is for certain is that the cost of excessive testing is too high for students.

Robin Ramp