“Overtesting” vs. Fewer, Better Assessments

Parents and community members have often raised concerns about over-testing in schools, wondering whether the amount of time spent taking exams is beneficial to students. But there are some important facts that get lost in this debate.

The vast majority of tests that students take each year aren’t required by the federal government. Federal law only requires that students take statewide assessments in English language arts and math annually in grades 3-8 and once in high school. Decisions to administer additional assessments are determined at state and local levels.  Parents who have frustrations or concerns with assessments can address those issues with their local school boards.

High-quality, comparable state tests provide valuable information that can increase equity across district and state lines. In fact, 12 national civil and human rights organizations took a stand against anti-testing efforts. “We rely on the consistent, accurate and reliable data provided by annual statewide assessments to advocate for better lives and outcomes for our children,” the groups wrote. “The anti-testing efforts that appear to be growing in states across the nation…would sabotage important data and rob us of the right to know how our students are faring.”

“There are constructive ways to improve education and accountability policies,” former U.S. Education Secretary Bill Bennett cautions. “Opting out is not one of them. Refusing to participate in assessments put students, parents, and teachers at a disadvantage, and it does little to address legitimate concerns about the quality and volume of state tests.”

“Yearly assessments are vital in measuring learning,” the New York Post editorialized this spring. “They provide critical feedback about students, teachers and schools.” Assessments aligned to high, comparable standards ensure students are mastering the skills and knowledge they need to succeed after high school—and that they get the support they need if they fall short.

Tests that align to state standards tell parents and teachers how their student are performing academically – and where they may need extra support. Many families, teachers, advocacy groups and others are working together in constructive ways to create better and fewer assessments. There are many tools available to help parents work with educators to help continue to improve state assessments – like the Testing Bill of Rights, which offers common sense principles to achieve better, fairer and fewer tests, or the Readiness Roadmap, which offers tools to help parents understand how their children are performing and how they can support them. We have compiled a handful of resources, which can be found here.

Such efforts are already bearing fruit. States are tweaking their tests to provide a more accurate measure of how students are performing. California, for example, introduced materials to better align instruction to state standards and provided better resources to teachers, resulting in better alignment between state standards, classroom practices, and assessments. Other states are making similar changes: New York made changes to its assessments to address parents’ concerns, including shortening the length of the tests and giving students more time; Tennessee streamlined its tests with the goals of strengthening content and reducing test time; and Massachusetts is changing its policies to have “fewer tests and less testing time moving forward.”