Teachers press BOE to reduce amount of standardized testing

Ten HSTA teachers testified before the Board of Education June 6, asking the board to move away from a testing culture they said takes away from learning.

For the just-ended school year, students statewide were required to take up to six standardized tests, depending on grade level. Because schools and complex areas could choose to implement additional assessments, some teachers reported their elementary and middle school students took 10 standardized tests last year.

At a Board of Education meeting June 6, officials announced three changes, including the elimination of some tests, that will take effect for the 2017-18 school year.

Several teachers who spoke at the meeting argued that the changes don’t do enough to reduce testing time for students.

Amber Tyndzik, a fourth grade teacher at Lunalilo Elementary, told the BOE’s Student Achievement Committee her students were subjected to an “overwhelming amount of testing” last year.

“We are now at 56 hours and 25 minutes of testing time taken away from instructional time in order to take the mandated standardized tests and the tests our school feels pressured into having our students take in preparation for those standardized tests,” Tyndzik said. “Please ask yourselves, what is the best way to allocate the time our teachers have with our students? I believe we must give teachers back their instructional time in order to truly move our students forward, and I hope that upon hearing these statistics, you will agree.”

Waiakea High School English teacher Mireille Ellsworth said, “While the DOE’s attempt to reduce testing time for students is notable, it does not go far enough to effectively move schools away from the toxic testing culture that still pushes school administrators and complex-area superintendents to focus more on test scores than actual learning.”

“As teachers have been testifying to this board ad nauseam,” Ellsworth added, “teachers learn about the strengths and weaknesses of their students through various authentic types of formative assessments that include classroom assignments and projects, observations, informal conversations with students, student-teacher conferences and teacher-made assessments.”

In testimony submitted to the BOE, Bridget Hannu, a special education teacher at Mililani Waena Elementary School, said, “Unfortunately for our students, assignments that engage and develop complex problem solvers are often pushed aside for testing. Pushed aside so that students are prepared and ready for the test. Pushed aside so students can take practice tests to prepare for the real test. Finally, pushed aside for the actual testing.  I have been extremely discouraged.”

Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, asked the board to consider updating its policy on statewide assessments to limit the number of tests in each level to four. Under HSTA’s proposed revision, schools would need to seek a waiver from the board to exceed that cap.

“It merely codifies into board policy our collective effort to limit testing time,” Rosenlee said.

The state will continue to test students annually in grades 3 through 8 and 11 on English language arts and mathematics on the Smarter Balanced Assessment to satisfy U.S. Department of Education requirements. The Smarter Balanced exam three years ago replaced the Hawaii State Assessment and is designed to emphasize critical thinking, analytical skills and problem-solving over rote memorization.

Next year Hawaii will implement a streamlined version of the exams, which is estimated to shave off roughly one-fifth of the testing time. Some 90,000 Hawaii students take the Common Core-aligned tests each spring, with the average student taking seven hours total to complete both subjects on the electronic assessment, which has no time limit. The average test time for high-schoolers was 4 hours and 40 minutes.

DOE officials said the revised exam is expected to reduce the average test-taking time by 90 minutes per student across both subjects.

The department also announced high school juniors will no longer be required to take the ACT college entrance exam each year. High-schoolers had been required to take the ACT exam — which on average took four hours — as well as the Smarter Balanced math and language arts tests and a standardized science exam.

Hawaii in 2014 began requiring all public school juniors to take the ACT exam to help assess students’ college-and-career readiness. The ACT is mandatory in 20 states and optional in others. Hawaii schools will still have the option to offer the exam to students.

The third announced change involves participation in the National Assessment of Educational Progress. The reading and math exam is administered by the federal Education Department in odd-numbered years to a representative sample of fourth- and eighth-grade students in every state, and is considered the benchmark of student achievement in U.S. public schools.

While participation in the math and reading tests is required by the federal government, periodic assessments on eight other subjects — including the arts, civics, American history, geography and economics — are optional. DOE officials said Hawaii will not participate in any of the optional tests.