State School Superintendent Anne Fox’s plan for Idaho’s schoolchildren to take a lot more standardized tests is drawing sharp criticism.
More than 200 superintendents and school board members gave the plan a chilly reception last week.
Fox staffer Sally Tiel tried to soften the blow, saying that kids will spend more time on lunch break than they will on testing. A wave of grumbling swept the room.
“The public wants assessment,” Fox told the crowd assembled for the annual superintendents meeting. In the back row, a district superintendent muttered, “They want results. They don’t care about assessment.”
The problem with Fox’s idea, several superintendents said, is that the national standardized achievement tests she favors may not match a particular school district’s curriculum. For example, third-graders could be tested on a topic that a district has decided to teach in fourth grade. The third-graders’ class work may not be covered in the test.
Plus, school district officials said, testing takes time away from learning.
“I agree with the thought that we do need to monitor, evaluate and assess,” said Twin Falls Superintendent Terrell Donicht. “But we’re not using the right instrument to do that.”
“If kids in other states are doing the same kinds of things (in the classroom), it’s an appropriate comparison. If not, it’s not an appropriate comparison.”
Districts may start gearing their curriculum to the tests, said Kellogg Superintendent Larry Curry. “I don’t know that that’s really good. It may not meet your district’s needs.”
“Do we want a national curriculum?” asked Bruneau-Grand View Superintendent Bob Ranells.
“Does Iowa get to define it?” asked Karlette Merrick, school board chairman at Bruneau-Grand View. The national standardized tests are developed in Iowa.
Idaho traditionally tested sixth-, eighth- and 11th-graders. Last year, fourth-graders also were tested.
Doug Cresswell, Coeur d’Alene superintendent, said Coeur d’Alene used to give standardized tests at every grade level, but dropped the practice years ago. “Certainly it will take some time away from instruction,” he said. “We questioned what we were getting out of it for the cost.”
Tiel recommended that teachers spread the testing time out. A thirdgrader might have a 30-minute test on each of four or five mornings, she said.
“It’s hard to just pull kids out for that many days,” Curry said.
Fox said she thought the national tests were appropriate ways to check on students’ performance. “It’s very generic things that schools ought to be teaching anyhow,” she said in an interview. “There’s nothing wrong with aligning your curriculum to those national standards.”
A booklet on the Iowa Test of Basic Skills says high school students will be tested on vocabulary, reading comprehension, spelling, punctuation, measurement, fractions, multiplication, people in history, map reading, and more.
In addition to the national standardized tests for all students in grades 3-11, Fox’s plan for the coming school year calls for a writing assessment test for grades 4, 8 and 11 and a math assessment test for grades 4 and 8. Unlike the other tests, the assessments will be matched to guidelines the state plans to develop on what to teach each grade. Those tests will be graded in Idaho.
“You must evaluate. You must see how you’re doing to move on,” Fox told the school officials, adding, “I know that may be at odds with some of your feelings and your training.”
Fox said she thought Idaho educators lacked training in properly using testing, and said her office will offer that.
Curry, however, said all Idaho superintendents have taken at least one undergraduate and one postgraduate course in student assessment, “and some more than that.”
Richard Harris, Post Falls superintendent, said, “I think you can do too much testing and you lose the value of it.” But Harris said testing is the best method administrators now have to measure student achievement.
“We’ll do it,” said Cresswell. “We’ll have to wait and see (as to) the value.”
, DataTimes MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: TESTS ON TAP Idaho schoolchildren will take the following tests this year: In October, all students in grades 3 through 11 will take the Iowa Test of Basic Skills, with between 100 and 300 minutes of testing time. In January, all fourth- and eighth-graders will take a 60-minute math test. In February, grades 4, 8 and 11 will take a writing test. Fourth-graders will spend 60 minutes; older kids will spend 90 minutes.