This month, the Kansas State Board of Education finally approved spending $6 million for another year of state assessment testing. Renewal of the University of Kansas Center for Educational Testing and Evaluation contract had been put off a month over concerns with delivery of state assessment this spring. Last year, the state assessments were incomplete due to a backhoe incident that cut the lines delivering the tests. CETE testified earlier this academic year to ensure that there would be backup, and that there would be folks to answer a testing-problem hotline in a timely manner.
Nevertheless, this spring some Kansas schools again had problems, with students being kicked off the online testing system and schools having to reschedule testing. The State Department of Education looked at alternatives, from going back to paper-and-pencil tests to re-joining a test consortia.
Long ago, Kansas was one of the first states to use computerized state assessments — and it ran fairly smoothly. So returning to paper-and-pencil tests was considered old fashioned.
In the first days of Common Core, Kansas had also joined Smarter Balanced, one of two test consortia (the other being PARCC). However, Kansas has since dropped out of the test consortium (as have a large number of other states).
But the KSBE never discussed adopting full ACT or ending state assessment testing under CETE. Therefore CETE tests will continue to drive teaching across Kansas these next school years.
The effect of external test authorities is similar to our growing problem in medical care. One famous Kansas medical doctor who retired early told me: “I can no longer do what is best for my patients; I have to do what some insurance company administrator tells me I can do!” He described ordering a medical test for a patient; the test came back negative (no disease). He then spent more time explaining to the insurance folks why he had ordered a test that did not test positive. He felt that his professional judgment had been taken away. And that is what has happened to teachers when testing has been taken out of their hands.
The claim that “Kansas has cut testing to 60 percent” is a false brag. Testing does not just consume the time the tests are given, but it drives teaching-to-the-test the rest of the year. And the testing of only a few disciplines has caused the short-changing or total abandonment of the non-tested curriculum. As with other states, Kansas students have lost up to one-fourth of their art and music classes — and teachers!
The test obsession begun by No Child Left Behind has not gone away under the “new” Every Student Succeeds Act. Fifteen years of NCLB has embedded external testing into most state education regulations and grown an expensive testing industry.
The original intent of the testing was to evaluate whole school systems, not individual students and teachers. But over the years, the failure of testing to improve schools has shifted the focus to individual student scores. That has decreased the value of tests traditionally written and used by teachers during the school year, an important practice (called “formative” testing) that allows teachers to customize their teaching for unique student populations: rural, high-risk, economically poor, gifted, etc.
University Education Schools are also complicit in this overtesting and teacher deprofessionalization. Classroom teachers formerly learned how to write and grade their own quizzes and tests as part of their professional training. “Tests and Measurements” courses provided depth in this important skill, as critical to teaching as surgery is to medical doctors. But with tests now written by external testing corporations, training teachers in testing has declined. Many colleges no longer offer a tests-and-measurements class.
What can we do? This is a problem that American parents can solve. The solution is simple: OPT OUT!
Under ESSA, the feds continue to extort test-compliance and want 95 percent of students to take the state assessments to get federal Title money. But parents have every right to opt their child out of this over-testing and last year 20 percent of New York parents did! The opt-out movement continues to grow. It is now time for Kansas parents to take back their schools and empower their teachers. Next year, the path back to educational sanity begins with Kansas parents who opt their children out of state testing!
Dr. John Richard Schrock is the editor of the Kansas School Naturalist and former chairman of the Biology Department at Emporia State University.