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Too Many Tests, Too Little Time: CCSS, RTTT, and Test Corporations

Due to recent backlash from parent groups, New York State Education Commissioner King recently suggested some changes to ease the burden of excessive testing on students. Some of the proposed changes include letting kids take tests in their native languages, allowing special education students to take tests at the level of instruction in which they are functioning, as opposed to their age-level, and the elimination of "field tests," which are administered specifically for the purpose of determining which questions should be future exams.

I'd like to add a couple more suggestions: First, I don't think New York State should be paying outside consultant organizations, such as Pearson, to create content for them. In an effort to conform to Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards, state administrators have turned to private corporations like Pearson to create assessment materials. These contracts are worth millions of dollars, and yet yield endless snafus, from delayed test releases, to incorrect scoring, to quality control problems. It is confusing to me how so many state departments of education continue to contract with Pearson, given this profusion of errors--particularly when these contracts are so costly.

It's difficult not to view the implementation of Race to the Top and Common Core State Standards without noting that the outcome of such reforms has served only to make testing companies wealthy, and has yet to actually improve educational outcomes for students--but that's a separate issue.

My second suggestion is connected to the first: In states like New York, which already have the New York State Regents exams--subject-specific tests developed by a board of New York State teachers, as opposed to by a private outside company--then no further testing should be required for students. In New York City, students took citywide "Performance Assessment" tests in math and ELA through the Measures of Student Learning test (MOSL) initiative; they did it once in the fall, and will take it again in the spring. This is in addition to the Regents exams, which they must take to graduate, not to mention the course-specific CCSS-aligned assessments that teachers must give at the end of each semester. On the whole, this is far too much testing, particularly when the addition of MOSL is only with the intention of evaluating teachers and schools. It escapes me why this can't be done solely through the existing Regents exams, thus eliminating the exorbitant expense, and the wasted man-hours for scoring the tests and instructional time for students.

Hopefully Commissioner King will continue to listen to concerned parents, who are rightfully dismayed at their students wasting so much time on standardized tests, and refocus attention on meaningful instruction that reinforces creativity, abstract thinking, and depth of knowledge (as opposed to a superficial focus on whatever the exam tests). But I doubt the test-making companies will ever allow themselves to be rendered fully obsolete; as long as CCSS and Race to the Top are in place, state departments of education are a veritable cash machine to which they have all-too-easy access.

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