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Minnesota Teachers Recommend Less Testing, More Teaching

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].

Maybe we just need to buy teachers a beer....
On tap at View 34 Wednesday….

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.

3 Comments

  1. Wayne Fenner 2015-09-08

    It takes more than the fingers on both hands to tally the number of South Dakota teachers I know in my cohort (late fifties, early sixties) who have retired early, left the teaching profession, or left South Dakota to teach in another state.

    The Blue Ribbon panel is just another delaying tactic. What SD legislators and executives need to wake up and see is that few well-educated, talented teachers are willing to endure the conditions imposed upon them.

    Standarized testing is just one of those burdens. Other hurdles are Student Learning Objectives (did we not learn how to set objectives in our teacher training programs?) and Common Core State Standards (as if we can MAKE every student accountable for learning X by point Y).

    I retired from a forty year teaching career a year and a half ago. I miss teenagers and my colleagues … even my administrators … but South Dakota lawmakers have so disrespected our profession that I could no longer continue.

  2. Deb Geelsdottir 2015-09-08

    The Minnesota teachers are exactly right about what schools need in terms of testing.

    GWB screwed up royally on education (Like he screwed up so many things.), with his NCLB fiasco that initiated the more testing using more time all the time. Education was already struggling due to funding reductions and and wholesale teacher defamation. Republicans have systematically piled on since, further weakening that noble profession to the point that SD now has a Koch/Republican governor creating an education task force with very teachers.

  3. leslie 2015-09-10

    Wayne-is journalist Joanne Barken’s critique of charter schools (like Washington’s Supreme Court ruling against them on constitutional grounds) well founded?

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