Testing times growing nationwide

Students nationwide take as many as 20 standardized tests per year, and an average of 10 in grades 3 through 8
By: | Issue: January, 2015
December 17, 2014

The testing boycott has begun: In November, thousands of Colorado high school students refused to take the state’s new science and social studies exams in a widespread protest against the amount of classroom time devoted to standardized testing, according to published reports.

The state department of education estimated that seniors would spend nine hours on the tests.

Students nationwide take as many as 20 standardized tests per year, and an average of 10 in grades 3 through 8, according to an October report from the Center for American Progress. And despite the perception that most of these are federally mandated assessments, districts actually require more tests, the report found.

Nationally, districts give K2 students three times more tests than do states. High school students are tested twice as much by their districts.

“There has been a continuing increase in the significance of standardized tests,” says W. James Popham, professor emeritus of the UCLA Graduate School of Education and a former state assessment designer. “Every hour you devote to testing is an hour you take away from instruction. If you’re not getting real payoff for children from that assessment hour, you shouldn’t be doing it.”

In September, the PARCC testing consortium announced that schools would need to schedule about 10 hours of Common Core testing time for elementary school students and 11 hours or more for middle and high school students this spring. Last year, the consortium estimated the tests would take eight to 10 hours. The new estimate is based on information from last spring’s field test of 1 million students.

The use of consortia testing may cut down on other standardized tests in many districts, says Eva Baker, co-director of the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Standards, and Student Testing. “These tests coming out of the consortia are created explicitly for multiple purposes,” Baker says. “In the past, there was so much testing because we have held to a proposition that every test serves a different purpose.”

As a result of their state’s membership in either PARCC or the Smarter Balanced testing consortium, 53 percent of districts are considering revising their own formative assessments in math and ELAÑbut only 2 percent are thinking about eliminating these assessments, according to an October report from the Center on Education Policy.

U.S. schools have used standardized tests since the mid-1800s. The passage of No Child Left Behind in 2002 mandated annual testing in every state. Annual state spending on standardized testing rose from $423 million in 2002 to almost $1.1 billion in 2008, according to the Pew Center on the States.

PARCC and Smarter Balanced received $360 million in federal grants to develop their assessments.