Zero-Based Testing

In The Washington PostEd Sector’s Kris Amundson takes a look at Montgomery County, Maryland, school superintendent Joshua Starr’s call for a testing moratorium.  She looks at the specifics of this instance (and some of this is just local political positioning by Starr, superintendents have to be politicians and educators), but there is a larger issue here.  Kids do take a lot of tests, and the lion’s share are not federally required or go beyond the federal minimum.  They’re state and local assessments as well as teacher created ones, all for different purposes and often of varying quality.  They’re time consuming and they’re often not aligned, not especially useful for teachers, and in some cases persist just because of inertia.  Rather than a testing moratorium, which as Amundson discusses has some substantive problems, how about the testing equivalent of zero-based budgeting? Take a look at every test a kid sees over the course of the school year, and decide what can/should go.  Not as sexy as a moratorium but better policy.

4 Replies to “Zero-Based Testing”

  1. The moratorium has the advantage of reversing some bad customs that have become established over the last ten years, one of which is the backwash effect on the development of our young teachers, who seem to have no idea what to do on days, like those near the end of the school year, when testing is finished but school is still in session; it’s constant party time around here in that season, and the public is getting ripped off. But your suggestion raises the important point, which I often wondered about when I was disputing with our Locke principal who was quite determined to implement a system of quarterly benchmark assessments (and who put me in charge of executing it), of the optimal ratio of testing vs. teaching days or hours, which is an issue I have never seen any systematic research on.

  2. This is an interesting suggestion, forcing the prioritization of testing. One potential snag is determining what counts as a test. As you mention, tests are not just given by the city and state, but by individual teachers as well. Do those count? Does a quiz count as a test?

    Moreover, budgets are concrete, while concepts are fluid. If a teacher needs to give more or less assessments to meet students’ needs, would the zero-based testing approach account for this?

  3. Next week, Maryland schools start the MSA for grades 3-6 and 8th.
    At every school in Maryland atleast 4 half days will be spent on testing most students. That’s all that will occur during that time. This will repeat in April for 2 days for grades 5 and 8 as they take the Science MSA.

  4. To add to that, counties also give a math and a reading formative assessment the other three quarters of the school year. And like the MSA, they take 4 days to administer each quarter for about 2 hours a day. When the scores return, the teacher goes over the whole test with the students. That takes about another 4 hours (two for math and two for reading.)

    Andy, for NAEP should the same school be used 4 times (8 years) in a row?

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