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How Can States Cut Tests Without Losing Crucial Information?

Cross-posted from the Curriculum Matters blog

By Catherine Gewertz

San Diego, Calif.


Last year, the national group that represents state education chiefs called on states to figure out ways to reduce the burden of testing on their schools. Now it's following up with a framework that states can use to evaluate their assessment regimens and cut back where they can, and it announced that 39 states are working to ways to do that.

The new framework was released Tuesday by the Council of Chief State School Officers at its annual conference on student assessment here. It aims to guide states as they try to cut back on testing, but still keep the assessments that produce meaningful information for students, parents, and teachers.

The 28-page document advises states, for instance, to be clear about why they are evaluating their assessment requirements, and to carefully gather information about what tests are required by the state, and by local districts. They should be sure to engage their communities in dialog about testing, and consider each test's quality, purpose, and time demands before deciding what to cut out.

In opening remarks to the conferees on Monday, CCSSO Executive Director Chris Minnich said that the new guidance comes at a time of increasing uncertainty and change on the testing landscape.

"I've never seen it crazier than it is now," he said. "Some states don't even know what tests they're giving next year."

That unsettled state of affairs makes it all the more important, Minnich said, that states have support and guidance as they try—in the face of rising opposition to testing—to build assessment systems that produce valuable feedback, and yet impose a lighter burden on students and schools.

The framework follows two key steps that the CCSSO took on the issue of testing: its October 2013 statement on the criteria that constitute high-quality tests. and its call last October, with the Council of the Great City Schools, for states and districts to figure out ways to cut back on testing. The new framework attempts to blend those two principles—fewer tests, but better ones—into a concrete, how-to plan for states. Throughout, it cites examples of how various states are tackling the task in their own ways.

Several states and districts are using Achieve's assessment inventory to get a more accurate look at the amount of time students spend on tests, the CCSSO paper said. Ohio surveyed its districts to build a detailed picture of what tests are given and how long they take. Connecticut is awarding grants to districts to support their work in evaluating their own assessment routines.

Like other groups that see the value in assessment, the CCSSO is clearly worried that the backlash against testing could unravel systems that shed valuable light on how to adjust instruction, and how to better serve student groups who are too often overlooked by the vast K-12 system. 

"We shouldn't throw out all the work we've done in upgrading these assessments just because we may be spending a little too much time testing," Minnich said. "We need to make adjustments as we move forward."

The new framework is the state chiefs' latest bid to help states make those adjustments.


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