The findings of a new report from the left-leaning Center for American Progress probably don’t come as much of a surprise to most public school educators and policymakers: the country’s schools test kids too much, and that’s taking a toll on quality learning.

The report acknowledges that standardized assessments generate useful data, support accountability, promote high expectations and encourage equity among students. But it also finds that, for some children, “testing exacts an emotional toll in the form of anxiety and stress.”

While three out of four parents agree that it’s important to regularly assess children to make sure they’re on track, nearly half of them believe there’s too much standardized testing in schools, according to a poll commissioned by the center.

sleeping student

A student takes a nap break from studying.

Pink Sherbert Photography/Flickr

The National Education Association, the national affiliate of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, today issued a statement saying the report confirms that “too often and in too many places, the education system has turned into a system of teach, learn and test with a focus on punishments and prizes.”

Much of the study focuses on delineating between tests mandated by the federal government and those required by individual districts — a distinction with little relevance to Hawaii, the only state that isn’t broken up into school districts. (The center found that districts “overtest” just as much as, if not more than, the feds.)

But the overall gist of the report does have a direct bearing on the Aloha State, whose public schools are in the throes of implementing new standardized assessments aligned to the Common Core State Standards.

Hawaii is one of 43 states, along with Washington, D.C., that have adopted the standards: universal math and reading benchmarks that were designed to level the playing field and ensure all children are equipped with the skills they need to succeed after school and compete in a global economy.

The report endorses the standards, which contrary to popular belief were developed at the state level and not by the federal government, and concludes that they’re less likely to lead to “teaching to the test.”

But the standards are still causing a good deal of consternation in Hawaii, which is fully implementing the new tests starting next semester. Hawaii for its part is using digital assessments known as Smarter Balanced; another 21 states are also taking the Smarter Balanced assessments.

The tests themselves aren’t typically what get critics so riled up; its the way the results of those tests are used. And the frequency at which they’re administered. And the time they take away from other classroom activities.

Students are tested an average of once per month, according to the report, which looked at pupils in grades for which federal law requires annual testing. Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, noted in a statement that no other country tests every child every year.

One of the biggest concerns, nationally as well as locally, is how the results of those assessments will be factored into teacher evaluations and, ultimately, their pay. In Hawaii, the tests will account for as much as 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation score, depending on the type of teacher.

The use of tests to rate teachers is one of the key reasons Hawaii’s evaluation system is so unpopular.

In fact, the practice is so contentious that the Gates Foundation — the very organization that bankrolled the standards’ development — called for a two-year moratorium on factoring the tests into high-stakes decisions such as teacher evaluations.

Even U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has backed off on high-stakes testing, recently announcing that states can postpone for a year the use of the assessments in teacher evaluations.

Meanwhile, states such as Colorado, Illinois and New York have seen widespread protests and even efforts to opt children out of mandated tests.

But Hawaii, at least for now, is sticking to its original plan.

“School is where childhood happens,” said NEA President Lily Eskelsen Garcia in a statement. “Even if Civil War dates are forgotten and geometry becomes a blur, one lesson must stick: the love of learning. No bubble test can measure how a kid feels; no standard replaces figuring out how to get along with others. So much happens at school that shapes our children’s tomorrows, including the security, acceptance and joy they feel today.”


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