It seems that we are poised to make a shift in testing policy at the state level. Many states are reconsidering how they test, how much they test, and what the test says about student achievement and teacher quality. With students studying for more and more tests, the amount of testing seems to have been in question for many years. But this issue is now gaining strength at the state level as the cost of this testing is examined.
In Colorado, for example, a Standards and Assessment Task Force established through legislation this year is planning to make recommendations about statewide and local assessments by the end of January. A November study commissioned by the task force found that local assessments cost between $16 million and $25 million in the state annually, while statewide assessments cost between $45 million and $53 million, or roughly $70 to $90 per student (EdWeek.org).
Cost is always important, but so is accountability. What do tests tell us about student achievement and teacher evaluation? Since No Child Left Behind, the answer seems to be mixed. The amount of testing was increased under this law, the amount of information connected to teacher evaluation was increased, and the natural outcome was to start leaning toward evaluating teachers by student testing scores.
Did student scores rise and did teachers improve? Under No Child Left Behind the results were very mixed. Under the more recent Common Core reform, most state tests showed less students meeting standards, but it is early on in this effort—i.e., in the early parts of reforms, testing usually shows low attainment, and during the reform, testing scores increase as students and teachers get used to performing better on the tests.
In some states, new curbs on testing could feed off a pushback to the common core—a state-led initiative with bipartisan support that has recently run into sharp opposition, especially on the political right.
Bills that would require states to ditch the common standards have already been filed for 2015 in South Dakota and Tennessee, both of which rejected anti-common-core legislation in their 2014 sessions. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who was re-elected last month, has made repealing the common core a top priority for 2015. Arizona Gov.-elect Doug Ducey and Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant, both Republicans, have also expressed skepticism about or opposition to the standards.
Pushback to the common core could also surface in legislatures that have switched to Republican control, as in New Hampshire and West Virginia (EdWeek.org).