Reader View: Santa Fe’s schools need to follow the president’s recommendations

On Oct. 24, the Obama administration issued a Testing Action Plan that sets guidelines for the amount of state-mandated standardized testing in public schools (“Welcome reprieve from testing,” Our View, Oct. 30). The guidelines are recommendations, and local school districts are not required to follow them.

Teachers around the country are breathing a collective sigh of relief because the federal government is finally putting the brakes on the testing frenzy initiated by No Child Left Behind. At the local level, Santa Fe Public Schools teachers fervently hope the new guidelines will lead to a reduction of testing in our schools. Today, testing in our district is as redundant and as frequent as ever.

I am a third-grade bilingual teacher, and here is what testing looks like for my 8- and 9-year-old students:

August and September: Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS), an individually administered test of reading fluency that takes about five minutes per student, including time to discuss each student’s results immediately following the test; Discovery Education Assessment (DEA), a 30-question English reading test and an equally long mathematics test in English or Spanish. Each test takes 90 minutes. The DEA is an online, standardized test given to all students in kindergarten through sixth grade. Students receive scores on these tests but are never told what questions they got correct or incorrect.

October: IDEA Proficiency Test (IPT), which is administered to native Spanish-speaking students. It consists of a writing test, a conversation and a reading test. Combined, these take about three hours. Students never receive the results of these tests.

October and November: DEA reading and math tests are repeated, 90 minutes each.

January: DIBELS reading-fluency testing is repeated, five minutes per student; Assessing Comprehension and Communication State-to-State (ACCESS) tests reading and writing (about three hours). It tests the English-language proficiency of English-language learners (31 percent of Santa Fe Public Schools students). Students receive scores at the beginning of the following academic year.

February: DEA reading and math tests again (90 minutes each).

March and April: New Mexico Standards Based Assessment (SBA), or Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), comprises three reading tests, two writing tests and three math tests. Each of these eight tests takes 120 minutes. The SBA and PARCC are used to judge whether a school is meeting reading- and math-proficiency levels. Until an injunction by state District Judge David K. Thomson, test results were also used to determine a teacher’s effectiveness. Students do not receive test results until the following academic year, by which time they are meaningless to the average elementary student.

May: The DIBELS reading-fluency test is given a third time (five minutes per student); the DEA reading and math tests are given a fourth and final time (90 minutes each).

In addition to this blizzard of standardized testing, teachers at one local elementary school are being asked to administer an additional online reading and math test every other week. Each of these tests takes students about 30 minutes.

The U.S. Department of Education’s Testing Action Plan calls for state-mandated standardized testing to fill no more than 2 percent of the academic year. According to my calculations, testing of my Spanish-speaking students takes 3.5 percent of their academic year, while testing of my English speakers takes 2.9 percent of their year.

To remedy this over-testing, I recommend reducing the DEA testing to three times annually, and reducing the Standard Based Assessment (SBA) and PARCC testing to one reading, one math and one writing test, which would be more developmentally appropriate for third-graders.

Michele Ortega, a national board certified teacher, has lived and worked in Santa Fe since 1974.

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