The real test is getting the balance right

  • Every hour students spend learning with teachers is precious.

  • It is imperative that we have information on how children are doing in school.

These two statements are at the core of the debate on testing: We need to know how students are doing, but every hour spent on testing or test preparation is a potential loss of learning time. It is common sense, and supported by research, that more time spent in a quality education setting helps a student advance. What may not be so obvious is that using some of that time for assessment can enhance the time students spend on task in the future.

Generation Next has five goals: K-ready, 3rd Grade Reading, 8th Grade Math, High School Graduation, and Post-secondary completion. For each of the goals there are measures and indicators that tell us how well we are doing in meeting these goals as a community. For 3rd Grade Reading and 8th Grade Math we rely on state standardized test as our principal measures.

Locally, a bill has been introduced that would eliminate math testing in 3rd and 4th grade and reading testing in 6th and 7th grade. This does not eliminate the measures attached to our goal, however we know that children don’t stop learning to read in 3rd grade, and they don’t begin to fall behind in math in 8th grade. While we share the concern that there may be too much testing and test preparation in our schools, we at Generation Next also believe the elimination of reading and math tests will be detrimental to efforts to close the achievement and opportunity gap in our cities and state.

In recognition of the debate over testing, Generation Next convened a committee of local education research and data experts to help determine the Generation Next approach toward testing and data. After much discussion the committee created the Generation Next Statement on Data & Assessment Literacy and Data Use (Data Statement). To summarize, it is the stance of Generation Next that data and assessments are only as good as their uses and must not be wasteful. The question of whether there is too much or too little testing is not as important as whether our community and schools have relevant information that is actionable.

Using that as a lens, we at Generation Next believe that Governor Dayton’s taskforce struck a good balance by eliminating some tests but keeping useful reading and math assessments. It is imperative that our community has information on how students are doing in 3rd through 8th grade in reading and math. One-size-fits-all solutions don’t work, so at Generation Next we use this data to deliver specific interventions based on the unique circumstances of each school and their students’ needs.

For example:

  • 3rd Grade Reading data helped determine which schools Generation Next could target for additional services like tutoring. This data led us to Lyndale Elementary in Minneapolis. Conversations with the school revealed that there are some interventions for students in k-3rd grade, but not as many targeting students in 4th and 5th grade even though many of those students never met 3rd grade reading proficiency. We are now having discussions with funders and programs about expanding interventions into those grades.
  • This year we are beginning to explore the 8th grade math gap. Without standardized data in the early grades we will be unable to understand how students of color are doing in math and how to best support them, before the critical 8th grade benchmark.

As our Executive Director has pointed out, each child has unique strengths and our community should recognize and value that (Weather Blog). The same is true of their struggles; we cannot assume that all children of color perform similarly in the same subjects, grades, and schools.

Students are more than any one test or indicator can capture. That is why multiple data points are needed to ensure students are receiving the help they need as early as possible. It might mean that we take a few hours away from their core task in school. But in the end it will ensure that for the rest of the time we have with them, we will tailor our services to their specific needs. If we do that we’ll be closer to ensuring that every child, regardless of their background, can thrive.

Victor Cedeño,  Director of Education Policy and Networks

SIF 2015