Convinced that there’s too much testing in public education, the Minnesota Legislature this year cut its state Department of Education’s testing budget from $42 million to $22 million and limited time schools can spend on nonstate standardized tests to ten hours for grades K–6 and eleven hours for grades 7–12.
Minnesota’s teachers’ union, Education Minnesota, agrees that we should test less and teach more:
Members of a statewide teachers’ union want to limit high-stakes student testing to fifth and eighth grades to refocus teacher time on broader learning rather than test-taking.
…A key finding in the report says tests should be limited to two years. “Testing in fifth grade allows for an assessment of where students are as they leave elementary school, and testing in eighth grade allows for a similar assessment at the end of middle school,” the report said.
The exams also limit the curriculum, the report states. When states test mainly for reading and math skills, other areas of learning get ignored, [elementary teacher Elizabeth] Proepper said [Alejandra Matos, “Teachers’ Union Wants to Limit High-Stakes Tests to 5th, 8th Grades,” Minneapolis Star Tribune, 2015.09.07].
One could argue that we don’t need to spend school time on standardized tests for high school students. They already face rock’em-sock’em final exams designed by their teachers followed by the most authentic test of their achievement possible: whether they can get into the jobs, schools, or platoons of their choosing when they leave high school. Making high-schoolers fill in a few more bubbles seems redundant and trivial compared to those benchmarks of success.
Minnesota’s teachers’ union says its members should have a lot of seats at the table setting policy on testing and other education matters:
Education Minnesota released a report Monday detailing how to improve assessments as state leaders engage in a larger debate about the issue.
“Too many policy debates are shaped by people who don’t work in schools,” union President Denise Specht said. “We believe it’s time to bring in experts, educators, to make policy recommendations that are grounded in their real work experiences” [Matos, 2015.09.07].
South Dakota’s Blue Ribbon Task Force on Teachers and Students, 8% of whose members are current classroom teachers, meets tomorrow at the golf course in Pierre to discuss how to meaningfully fund K-12 education. State testing director Abby Jaruvek-Humig and Education Secretary Melody Schopp will be there to talk about teacher training and employment; maybe the two teachers and 24 other Blue Ribboneers can bend their ears a bit about how reducing testing might free up a few dollars for more meaningful and productive school funding.
Fiscal Note: We ought not get too excited about the fiscal savings of reduced testing. Recall that during this year’s Legislative session, the Governor moved the state DOE budget for testing over to the school technology budget. That transfer was $1.463 million. That’s not a lot of money to raise teacher salaries (the #1 action the Blue Ribbon panel will recommend if it is serious in its mission), but moving some of that money to teachers’ pockets in addition to giving them more time to teach broader content instead of prepping and proctoring kids in standardized tests could make more teachers want to stay in South Dakota classrooms.