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AFT Campaign Takes on Issue of Excessive Testing

The AFT’s efforts to help all children succeed—by de-emphasizing testing and ensuring instead that instruction includes the arts and physical education and is based on high-quality standards such as the Common Core State Standards—began earlier this year with an online petition and a resolution stating that testing should inform, not impede, teaching and learning.

“Public education should be obsessed with high-quality teaching and learning, not high-stakes testing,” AFT president Randi Weingarten says. “Tests have a role to play, but today’s fixation with them is undermining what we need to do to give kids a challenging and well-rounded education and to fairly measure teachers’ performance.”

Learning Is More Than a Test Score includes a website, a new petition, a toolkit and other items advocating an end to the over-reliance on testing and calling for the restoration of teaching and learning to its proper role at the forefront of the education process. The AFT will be working with affiliates, communities, school districts and states to help ensure that testing does not encroach on the instructional time students need to learn how to think critically and creatively.

In the next few months, the AFT will convene leaders and external experts to look at promising practices and develop a road map of promising policy alternatives to the testing fixation. The Albert Shanker Institute also will devote its Good Schools conference to this topic.

The AFT believes that tests are an important tool to diagnose students’ strengths and weaknesses and that, when used correctly, they can help teachers identify students who are falling behind and those who need more challenging work. “As we push for better, higher standards in education, we must ensure that teaching to high standards doesn’t devolve into teaching to low-level tests,” Weingarten says.

The over-emphasis on high-stakes tests has forced teachers to spend an excessive amount of time on test preparation, actual testing and data collection at the expense of more engaging instruction. The AFT is working with its affiliates on state legislation concerning the appropriate use of tests as well as on collecting and analyzing data on how much time and money is being spent on testing and test preparation. Some disturbing examples of over-testing and test prep include:

  • A superintendent in Monroe County, N.Y., testified that in the first two months of school, more than 20,000 pretests were administered to 4,000 students.
  • Teachers in Florida say their schools have some form of testing 80-90 school days a year.
  • In Texas, up to 45 days each school year are spent on testing activities.

“The public gets it, and opposition to the testing fixation is increasing,” Weingarten says. For example:

  • Thousands have signed the AFT’s petition calling for a more balanced approach to public education by prioritizing high-quality instruction informed by appropriate and useful assessments.
  • 870 school districts in Texas (or 85 percent of all Texas districts) have passed a resolution saying that high-stakes standardized tests are “strangling” public schools.
  • The Florida School Board Association and dozens of Florida school districts have passed resolutions calling for an end to high-stakes tests as the primary factor in evaluating student, teacher, school and district achievement.

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