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The Testing Conversation: Focus Less on Time, More on ValueAre American kids spending too much time taking standardized tests in schools? Ask many parents, and even President Obama, and you’ll likely get a resounding YES. But is this an accurate assessment of the reality of student testing in U.S. schools?

A report cited by the President said that kids spend 20 – 25 hours each school year taking standardized tests, and this is likely accurate, but is it a lot? Let’s put this number into perspective. Students spend about seven hours at school each day. Take an hour back for lunch and recess, and it’s a solid six hours. If you then factor the total school hours for the year, it works out to just over 2 percent of total school time taking standardized tests. Is this too much?

An article from OECD Education & Skills Today – Are American students over-tested? Listen to what students themselves say – also did some comparisons of time spent in testing between students in the US and in other countries. OECD asked 15-year old students taking the global PISA assessment how frequently they take part in standardized tests.

34% of 15-year-olds in the Netherlands said they take a standardized test at least once a month, 21% of students in Israel said so, and on average across OECD countries 8% of students so reported. In the United States, only 2% of students said they took standardized tests at least once a month. By the way, that turns out to be exactly the same share as in Finland.

Aside from calculations and international comparisons, the discussion should focus less on how much testing is taking place and more on the purpose and value of the testing and the usefulness and timeliness of the data that results from it. These are conversations many in education have had on numerous occasions, particularly when tests were used primarily for accountability and offered no practical assistance, support, or feedback for students and teachers.

With the passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), the conversation is shifting in a productive way to focus on the quality of tests and the usefulness of the data. Now, people are asking – is the time we are spending on assessment worthwhile, and are the tests delivering relevant feedback to teachers, students and parents while still providing important checks on progress for the nation’s students? Is the assessment providing information about student growth and enabling teachers to understand student learning? If a test does these things, isn’t that a valuable use of class time?

In this current climate of shifting standards and tests, the time is right to explore the purpose of testing, encourage the examination of decisions being made based on timely assessment outcomes, and promote dialogue on how we can best help positively transform our education systems. This dovetails nicely into what we’re trying to do here at Assessment Literacy, and that is help foster a comprehensive understanding of assessment and its role in learning. Our website is designed to help educators understand the different uses of assessment and how to apply assessment data to support classroom learning.

We’d love to hear what you think on the important topic of assessment purpose, so share your thoughts with us on Twitter (@Assess2Learn) or Facebook.