EDITORIAL: Are there pitfalls in new testing requirements?

For years, teachers, education administrators, parents and other school personnel have cried foul over the number of assessment tests required of students. All of the above go into near panic mode when testing periods approach. On Monday, the state Department of Education released what might be considered good news. The release said, “Beginning with the 2015-2016 school year, students will take fewer tests due to a reduction of Student Learning Objectives (SLOs) required for schools to administer.

“I have always believed that we test our students too much,” state School Superintendent Richard Woods said. “Eliminating some of the Student Learning Objectives is a step toward reducing the overall number of tests given to students, which will give our teachers more time for instruction and help our students focus on learning instead of testing. This change is another step toward a more responsible accountability model.”

Sounds like good news, but it’s more complicated than that. If a district such as Bibb County and Peach County are Race to the Top districts, “teachers will only be required to administer two SLOs, where they previously administered up to six SLOs. Non-Race to the Top school districts will administer only one SLO, where they also previously administered up to six SLOs. If teachers in a non-Race to the Top district teach a Milestones course (state standardized test), then they would administer no SLOs.

“The SLO assessment reduction will reduce the amount of testing in all schools and classrooms, and lessen the financial and human resources burden on all districts.”

Again, that sounds good, but the devil is in the details and some of the details are on Department of Education’s website. One of the first slide’s reminds the reader that this new flexibility is a choice: “Flexibility is an option,” it says, “not a requirement.” Districts have the option to “Proceed as previously planned” or “Implement the flexibility option.”

We are very careful to note that many times in education there are consequences and it’s too early to tell what consequences might await districts and their teachers that choose the flexibility of having fewer tests. Will it be a decision that comes back to haunt when the teacher accountability piece is fully in place? How will this impact a schools’ College and Career Ready Performance Index and will the new testing rubric match up with the old/new CCRPI? We hate to look a gift horse in the mouth, but with the history of the state’s attitude of giving only to take away, we’re just asking.