Archive for Thursday, January 24, 2002

Assessment tests should be coordinated

January 24, 2002

President George W. Bush signed an education bill two weeks ago that attempted to make local school districts more accountable. We applaud that goal, but we question the new round of testing the bill apparently will require of local school districts.

Currently, Kansas schools must administer state assessment tests to select grade levels each year. For example, fourth-, seventh- and 10th-graders are tested in math, while fifth-eighth- and 11th-graders are given reading tests. In addition, some form of testing must be a part of state-mandated school improvement plans. In De Soto, the Iowa Basic Skills Test is given to students in the third-, sixth-, ninth- and 11th grades. Finally, the state requires second-graders take reading diagnostic tests each year.

Every minute students spend proving to bureaucrats how much they have or haven't learned is time that could have be spent in classrooms, laboratories and libraries acquiring new skills and knowledge. Moreover, assessment tests can be quite time-consuming, taking up more than a week of class time. As De Soto curriculum director Doug Powers said, "You can't fatten the cow while you have them on the scales."

The new federal legislation comes at a time when the state is considering cuts to K-12 education. Many lawmakers are justifying the reduced level of funding with a recent legislative post-audit report some in Topeka read as evidence Kansas school districts are spending too much on non-classroom programs.

The preparation, administration and scoring of the assessment tests take staff time. With their demand for accountability, state legislators have sent an unfunded mandate to school districts.

Adding another round to satisfy federal requirements will inflate those non-instructional costs while adding another expense to local districts.

We're not suggesting assessment tests are a waste of time and money. When appropriately designed and administered with proper security assuring schools don't teach specifically to the tests to show "achievement," they are valuable tools in tracking how well students, teachers and schools are performing. But too much testing is counter productive.

The federal testing process has not yet been developed. Local school districts need to be involved in their development and demand state and federal bureaucrats coordinate their efforts and avoid needless duplication. We'd rather see teachers challenging students by engaging them in spirited lesson plans.

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