/Mississippi First urges more transparency in student testing

Mississippi First urges more transparency in student testing

Mississippi News, Nonprofit A new report says that Mississippi should be more transparent with state tests. It needs to make clear what it measures and how many students take them. Mississippi First, an advocacy nonprofit, worked with four unnamed school districts in order to determine how much time students spent on state and district-mandated testing, as well as what factors might increase that time and what teachers thought about the subject. According to the report, the districts had different demographics like enrollment and accountability ratings. They were allowed anonymity to ensure that honest responses. Mississippi First, a non-profit advocacy organization for public school systems, focuses on expanding charter schools options and prekindergarten programs. Mississippi has changed three state tests in three years. It started with the Mississippi Curriculum Test, then moved to the PARCC test during the 2014-15 schoolyear. However, that test was only used for one year. In the 2015-16 schoolyear, the state switched to the Mississippi Assessment Program (MAP) and is currently using it. The report shows that in 2014-15, grades 3-8 spent an average of 11 hours 41 minutes or 1.1 per cent of their school year on state testing. The average time spent testing was one hour and thirty minutes for kindergarten through second grade, while grades 9-11 took 7 hours. It was noted that the time taken to take a test does not reflect how many districts spend time on standardized testing. The report suggested that students might benefit from shorter, more frequent assessments in a well-designed curriculum, rather than one summative assessment. The report stated that “lost instructional time” is not just due to the length of a test, but also because of disruptions caused by testing to the school day. Unplanned technical issues and availability of technology were factors in the efficiency with which their districts could administer state exams, according to several educators who participated in the study. The report revealed that districts used different testing products, even though they used many of the same suppliers. Rachel Canter, Mississippi First’s executive director and coauthor of the report, stated that the four districts surveyed used STAR math assessments and reading assessments. However, they were administered at different grade levels and frequency. District-level testing is more flexible for school districts than state testing. There are no requirements on the number of district-level tests that a student must take. According to the report, district-mandated testing can lead to very different testing experiences. The average number of tests per grade ranged from 10 to 27 depending on which district. According to the report, teachers in focus groups said that standardized testing was so common that students and parents couldn’t tell the difference between state and district tests. Canter stated that testing terminology can be confusing and districts should do better at explaining the differences between the different types of tests to help students and parents better understand the purpose and benefits. Canter stated that it can be difficult for parents to understand what a child is saying when he or she comes home from school and tells them they have a test. “School districts aren’t doing a good job of explaining why they use different testing, how they use it once they have it, and who mandated it.” Mississippi First made these recommendations to school districts: * Make testing more transparent by publishing a list of all their standardized testing, including the state-level and district-level tests. A parent meeting should also be held by districts, according to the report. * Provide teachers with the opportunity to review data from state testing through formalized procedures at the start of each school year. This will make the tests more useful for their instruction. To better understand the time and purpose of testing, the report recommends an audit of all district testing. * Review and support rigorous tests that are created by teachers, not vendors. * Adopt or create policies to preserve instruction time. This includes reviewing the pacing guides of teachers, looking at the length of school days and years, and other policies. The Mississippi Department of Education should also create a guide for parents regarding state testing. It is important that the department push state test vendors to provide faster turnarounds on reporting scores so teachers can analyze students’ data more efficiently. The Mississippi Legislature should avoid “adding to confusion with overblown rhetoric regarding testing.” Carey Wright, the state superintendent, stated earlier this year that the department should press state test vendors for a faster turnaround on score reporting so teachers have more time to analyze their students’ data. Tom Miles (D-Forest), argued that end of class assessments prevent teachers from teaching and create barriers for many students to graduate. Miles stated that test preparation takes away time from teaching and causes stress for students and teachers. He stated that some people refuse to recognize what principals and teachers know. Schools must be shut down and teachers removed from classrooms in order to administer these tests. Miles stated that the issue will be re-examined during the next legislative session. Miles stated that he believes we can come up with a solution together to eliminate the testing burden on students, parents, teachers, and other educators. Mississippi First’s report suggests that the Legislature hand over vendor testing decisions to Education. It cites bills that Miles and others filed that would have required the state to replace subject area-tests and earn a minimum score in the ACT. None of these bills survived the session. Canter stated that the Legislature continues to tell children they must go to college and then wants to mandate a college readiness test to graduate high school. “I believe there is a real concern that if the Legislature gets rid of everything and replaces it with ACT, then they want to come back and mandate a college readiness exam for high school graduates.” Canter said.