Dear Commissioner McQueen,
Amanda Miller and I put together an estimate of standardized testing time for our elementary-age kids this year. We both have 4th graders in public schools in Hamilton County.
As you know, the federal government recommends that no more than 2% of school time be spent on testing. If there are 180 days of school, times 6 hours of instructional time per day (excludes lunch, recess, related arts, PE) this equals 1,080 hours of instructional time in a school year. 2% of those hours = 21.6 hours per year to spend on testing and test prep.
As of Monday, here is where we are at our school:
Actual TN Ready Test Time - 18.9 hours (for grades 3 through 5, the TN Ready test itself is 11.9 hours of testing – that’s just the actual test. In reality, we must factor in 30 minutes on either end of each test for transition, to set up, pass out, get ready and shut down testing. Add an hour per test for activities that must occur before and after a test. This adds 7 hours + the original 11.9 = 18.9, and assumes no problems during testing).
Break the Mist required testing - 6 hours
Universal Screening Testing - 6 hours
30 minutes per week of test prep time since school started, 180 schools days X 6 hours (excludes recess etc.). We think this is an extremely conservative estimate.
The total: 41.9 hours, nearly double the recommended amount... so far.
I am a licensed attorney. I took two standardized tests to become an attorney (LSAT and TN Bar Exam) and those tests totaled about 20 hours.
The larger point: my fourth grader will complete more than DOUBLE the amount of standardized testing hours to finish fourth grade than I did to become a lawyer.
I hope we can have a conversation about how to change this. I would like your response before I speak with our elected and appointed officials about it. Thank you for your time.
We also put this response together to send to a local reporter with the Times Free Press who has been reporting that testing time has NOT gone up over the last several years.
Again, I don't think people understand that the parent guide to TN Ready is misleading (if not actually false).
I wanted to respond to your most recent email sent in regards to the new TN Ready Test. I am passionate about the subject because I believe too much instructional time is being taken away from children.
I contacted my daughter’s Principal and she kindly agreed to meet with me to answer questions about the upcoming TN Ready Test. Other parents in Hamilton County aren’t getting the same response from their school administrators. Most administrative staff and many teachers are fearful of losing their jobs and fearful of informing parents of anything different than what is stated in the TN Ready Parent Guide. The TN Ready Parent guide is full of information about the test; however, the information and numbers in reality are very deceiving.
Let me lay out some numbers and information that my daughter’s Principal shared with me. The Federal Government suggests that total testing time and total test prep time not exceed 2% of a school’s instructional time. If there are 180 days of school times 6 hours of instructional time per day (excludes lunch, recess, related arts, PE) this equals 1,080 hours of instructional time in a school year. 2% of those hours = 21.6 hours a year to spend on testing and test prep.
For grades 3 through 5, the TN Ready test itself is 11.9 hours of testing – that’s just the actual test. In reality schools must factor in 30 minutes on either end of each test for transition, to set up, pass out, get ready and shut down testing. Add an hour per test for activities that must occur before and after a test. This adds 7 hours. This means that total hours spent on testing and test related activities take up 18.9 hours of the school year.
The state also required schools to perform 3 mandated “Break the Mist” days. Students were supposed to test the computer system to see if the platform would perform. All those days proved that the system was not ready, however the state kept moving forward. These test the system days took away roughly 6 hours of classroom time. This makes 24.9 hours of test related time away from educational instruction. This number is conservative. If you add in test prep time, the number would be even higher.
The state requests that schools administer a Universal Screener test 3 times a year in Math and Language Arts. The math portion is roughly 30 minutes per test. Language Arts is 1 hour per test. Total time, before TN Ready, is 4.5 hours of just testing. Add the transition time for each test, which makes a total of 6 hours a year of testing before TN Ready. With all the added test prep, transition times and universal screening tests, roughly 30.9 hours of testing will occur this school year.
21.6 hours would be 2% of the school year. Tennessee is far beyond the federal government suggestion. The TN Ready Parent Handbook is very misleading in its attempt to tell parents that only 1% of the school year is spent on the TN Ready test. In reality, in a classroom setting with transitions and set up, the TN Ready test for 3rd through 5th grades would take 18.9 hours away from classroom instructional time. This is over 1%. They are wrong.
Here are a few other notes to consider when analyzing the TN Ready testing numbers. The state says that “overall testing time” hasn’t changed since 2014, but anyone with a child in school can tell you that testing time has increased. The state has reduced the number of hours allowed for end of course exams in high school from all day to an allotted amount of time. At the same time, they have increased the time the younger students are testing, but this is not really reflected in their numbers. These two scenarios wash to some extent causing the numbers to be skewed. On page 13 of the TN Ready Handbook the state says, (in reference to their 1% calculation) “This calculation is based on an average of hours scheduled for testing among the three grade groups: Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, and High School.” Please see my attached graph that shows the increase in testing from 2013/14 school year to 2015/16 school year.
Page 12 of TN Ready Handbook also states that the TN Ready tests will be given approximately 12 weeks apart. The paper and pencil test for my daughter’s school begins the week of March 7th, after many delays. The 2nd half of the TN Ready test will be given the week of April 25th. This leaves only 6 weeks between tests. One of those weeks is Hamilton Counties’ Spring Break, leaving 5 instructional weeks between testing. Is there really any reason to measure learning gains over 5 weeks?
If you would like to hear the real story from educators and parents, the boots on the ground, trying to comply with the states every whim, I know that many of our parents and our principal would be happy to speak with you. This is a numbers story that has not yet been told. This is a new perspective on the massive increase in testing that is creating more work for educators and less valuable instruction time for our students who are already behind.
I’d love to see you dig into the reality of how much time testing takes.