Taking tests, to test, to see if students are ready for the test

Story by Luke Quinton that ran today on KUT NPR about the passage of HB5 in Texas. Listen here. Text of story quoted below.

When Gov. Rick Perry signed House Bill 5 this week, it signaled that the waves of complaints from parents opposed to high stakes testing, had caught hold. But one irony is that most people — even most journalists — still don’t know the actual  number of test students take.

The federal No Child Left Behind law was modeled after Texas. No Child requires seven tests, but Texas’ requirements make the federal standards look quaint.  Before this week’s bill signing, Texas students were taking 15 end-of-course tests—at least that’s the number you hear. HB 5 reduced that number, appropriately enough, to five.

But the “15” tests that everyone talks about? Well that number completely ignores elementary and middle schools. “So the end of course exams are only secondary exams,” said UT researcher Julian Vasquez Heilig. “There’s a whole other battery of tests that these kids take, grades three through eight.”

Students in grades three to eight have 17 tests that the legislature left untouched. So, until this week there were 32 tests, total. Now there are 23—right?

Well, not exactly. Let’s talk about “benchmarks.”

A benchmark is sort of a rough-draft of the high stakes test that comes later in the year.  A pre-test, if you will. It’s a district decision, but in Austin Independent School District and many other Texas districts, benchmarks are given for each test, twice a year. So that’s 51 tests, from grades three through eight.

As Heilig puts it, “What we do know is that in many schools almost a quarter of their year is taken up in testing. So that means they’re often taking tests, to test, if they’re ready for the test. So clearly that is a very poor use of our classroom time.”

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  • It is a crying shame. The vast majority of students, high achieving to low performing, are in agreement that most of their time in class is wasted memorizing facts that are irrevelant and will never be needed in their chosen careers. Not knowledge retained, but random facts that are memorized, regurgitated, and soon forgotten. There is a great deal of valuable knowledge to be had, but not at the expense of sending ill-prepared students into the real world without critical workplace skills that they will need, regardless of career choice. Without communication skills, people skills, time management/organizational skills, networking skills, financial literacy, and technology skills, future employees will struggle, regardless of how full their ‘knowledge’ bank account might be. Maybe the real challenge is to create valid means of accurately testing these essential skills which can’t simply be ‘Googled’ and are required in 99.9% of all jobs.


  • Pingback: Worth A Read | Virtual School Meanderings

  • Districts using tests at the beginning of the year to establish benchmarks relative to upcoming learning targets, and using the results of those assessments to HELP TEACHERS more effectively plan, differentiate instruction and collaborate on effective practices, are making effective use of assessment as a tool to improve educational outcomes. Those measuring student growth on the same learning targets at the end of the year helps to inform the next level of learning.

    To make this work, districts need common assessments that are valid and reliable and TIED DIRECTLY to the pacing guides and curriculum maps used by teachers. This is RARE INDEED as most summative testing that is reported, and to which accountability is mostly tied, ARE NOT TIED directly to what is actually taught. Most often what is measured and how it is measured, on accountability tests, is determined NOT at the district or school levels, but at the state or consortium level. Off-the-shelf standardized tests – the kind used by most states and schools – are simply not aligned well enough with either the expectations and standards or the taught curriculum of most schools to provide meaningful information that can help improve learning outcomes.

    Thus, assessment, instruction, and accountability are hopelessly and disconnected and constantly chasing each other in a vicious cycle.


    • Brandy Alexander

      I agree that when used correctly can be a great help to teachers and to guide instruction. But the demands of 40-50 question “benchmarks” 4-5 times a year for 7-8 year olds is quite overdone. Furthurmore, I am disappointed that we are using the released standardized tests to create our pacing guides and curriculum maps, rather than placing the value of our instruction on the most essential knowledge and skills that our children can use to create a successful, innovative academic path, to use as productive citizens of Texas…or wherever their path may lead them.


  • Brandy Alexander

    I just wrapped up my 7th year teaching in a Houston-area school district where benchmarking is quite more than twice a year in some subjects. If parents are upset with the 15 EOC exams then how must they feel about the continuous testing that is done to our young children? Where did the “developmentally appropriate” teaching standards go? I sure remember studying them at the University of North Texas education school. But when I get to the “real world” we are subjecting even our kinder and pre-K students to benchmark tests to make sure they have the necessary skills to advance appropriately until the big state test in 3rd grade. Time spent officially evaluating those skills is taking away precious time with teachers and other high-interest learning objectives. Furthermore, when it comes to math and science there are many more benchmarks given to evaluate certain concepts. Didn’t understand a certain math concept? Oops! Sorry, no time to reteach, onto the next material for the next benchmark. Hopefully this step will motivate districts to slow their testing procedures but since the STAAR is still there…on to more test-driven learning environments. And we wonder why our children aren’t motivated to come to school and learn.


  • Monty J. Thornburg

    In my County wide rural district, we have “bench mark” tests sent out regularly. They are designed, I guess, to mirror the STARR statewide tests and give student’s practice, and, I guess, give some feedback to teachers not received from the CA STARR test. I’m not sure it’s working but it’s a try. I’m not sure but I think this practice of piling on more tests to be ready for the big CA STARR test is common across the state of CA. Our district, like every other in CA, is just trying to stay ahead of the AYP “curve” in competition with other districts for fear of pulling the “parent trigger.”


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