MISSOULIAN EDITORIAL: Focus should be on teaching, not testing
As Congress prepares to reauthorize the nation’s most significant education legislation, it’s important to note that none of the congressional proposals forwarded so far have solved the biggest problem with the No Child Left Behind Act: federal testing requirements.
Except, that is, for a bill by U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont. Last month, Tester introduced the Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act as a way of replacing annual federal testing with grade-span testing, resulting in a reduction in the overall number of tests students are required to take.
Tester, who is a former public school teacher himself, believes students are spending too much class time preparing for and taking tests, and that the undue emphasis on test results is driving too many teachers to “teach to the test.”
“Students shouldn’t be spending most of their time in school filling out bubbles,” Tester said a prepared statement. “That’s not the kind of education that fosters critical thinking or creativity. Students shouldn’t be learning for the test, they should be learning for life.”
Testing has been a central focus since the No Child Left Behind Act was implemented in 2002. It doubled the number of required tests in math and language arts, mandating yearly tests for students in third through eighth grade, and again in high school. Now, a student is expected to complete 14 federally required tests during his or her public school career.
Tester’s bill would restore testing requirements to pre-NCLB levels by requiring one reading test and one math test in elementary, middle and high school, for a total of six tests.
That’s plenty. Testing at each of the grade-span levels will provide the same kind of benchmark information needed to assess how well our schools are teaching our children – without subtracting from that education by requiring too much testing.
The Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act has already gained some significant support, both locally and nationally. In fact, it was Melanie Charlson, a teacher and president of the Missoula Education Association, who first urged Tester to look at grade-span testing.
“As a 25-year veteran educator who taught prior and post NCLB,” Charlson said, “I find Senator Tester’s bill a welcome relief to the senseless Test Stress classroom educators and students have endured for 15 years. The instructional time lost to expensive, mandatory tests is shameful. Returning to grade span testing is a reasonable solution. Time to actually teach to each students needs will be allowed. I applaud Senator Tester for his action in correcting the NCLB debacle.”
Further, the idea has the stated support of both the School Administrators of Montana and the National Education Association, which represents more than 3 million teachers and education professionals.
Tester will likely offer the bill as an amendment to the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, which is moving forward with proposed reforms. In April, the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee unanimously passed the bipartisan Every Child Achieves Act, which was hammered out by Sens. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Patty Murray, D-Wash.
The Every Child Achieves Act is now on its way to the Senate floor, and is being hailed as a comprehensive approach to reauthorizing No Child Left Behind, in that it allows a much greater degree of educational innovation and flexibility. However, it does nothing about the overly onerous annual testing requirements that have caused so much trouble for educators and their students for more than a decade.
For that, Tester’s amendment is needed. Hopefully his fellow senators – and fellow Montanans in Congress – will see the need for it as well.