Congressman Calls For Less Tests

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School superintendents gather at South High School to hear Congressman Steve Israel explain his proposed legislation. Rep. Israel (center) joins Great Neck School District Superintendent Tom Dolan (third to the left).

U.S. Congressman Steve Israel (D-NY) joined a dozen Long Island superintendents to announce legislation to reduce the number of tests students take. The Tackling Excessive Standardized Testing (TEST) Act would allow states to choose an alternative testing regime for students in grades 3 through 8.

Israel said that the legislation was drafted based on feedback from local superintendents as to how testing can be effective and reflect students’ abilities without subjecting them to over-testing. Israel and the superintendents of 12 school districts, (Roslyn, Hicksville, Manhasset, Half Hollow Hills, Commack, Westbury, Port Washington, Huntington, Glen Cove, Oyster Bay and Hauppague) including Great Neck School District Superintendent Thomas Dolan, made the announcement on the steps of Great Neck South High School on Monday morning, Sept. 8.

Israel stated: “While some testing is essential to ensure that our students are actually learning what is being taught, I share the same concerns as many of our local superintendents and parents.” He said that “we are over-testing our students and stifling their creativity.” The congressman believes that children need classroom time to learn knowledge, “not just how to take a test.” And so Israel has now worked with many Long Island superintendents to draft legislation that would allow states to choose an alternative testing schedule for students that curbs the amount of tests they have to take while still reflecting their abilities and the effectiveness of school districts.

Dolan responded, saying: “Congressman Israel has taken a stand on this issue that will address the over-testing of students across the United States. These measures, once enacted, would address this practice and serve as an incentive for schools to improve their performance.”

Dan Brenner, neighboring superintendent from the Roslyn School District, told the Record that he and his fellow superintendents generally “agree” that young students are tested too much and Brenner added that they sometimes question the “validity” of these tests. He also said that he believed that Israel’s legislation “goes a long way to address the concerns.”
Other superintendents attending also thanked the congressman, touting his perception of the problem and his willingness to act on the issues.

The TEST Act consists of three sections. The first section sets the standard that students in grades 3 through 8 would only be required to take one test per year: English Language Arts (ELA) in grades 3, 5, and 7, and math in grades 4, 6, and 8. Currently, students have to take both ELA and math tests each year.

The second section calls for schools that rank in the top 15 percent in the state on all of the ELA or math tests to be allowed to move to a four-year testing cycle on the respective tests. In addition, the tests must have a 75 percent passing rate based on the raw scores. For these schools, ELA would be tested in grades 3 and 7, and math in grades 4 and 8.

This part also directs the U.S. Department of Education to develop an alternative measure, within one of enactment of the legislation, by which schools can also move to this testing regime if they show a certain level of progress.

Finally, current law states that for the first three years students with limited English proficiency are in U.S. schools, they may take these mandated tests in their own language. After that they must take them in English. No matter when they entered the U.S. school system, the score is counted in measures of school accountability. Under this legislation, for one calendar year after a student enters the U.S. school system, test results on these mandated tests would not be included in such accountability measures.

A study published in 2002 by Education Week found that between 50 percent and 80 percent of the improvement in a school’s average test scores from one year to the next was temporary and was caused by fluctuations that had nothing to do with long-term changes in learning or productivity. Additionally, a 2007 study by the Center for Education Policy found that 44 percent of districts cut time on science, social studies, art and music, physical education, lunch or recess in order to increase the amount of time spent in elementary schools on English language arts and or math.

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