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Pittsburgh Schools Win By Choosing Teaching Time Over Testing Time

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broken-pencil-standardized-testImagine your kids could squeeze in an extra week of learning every school year. Before you cringe at the loss of vacation time, let me tell you that this extra time would come without anyone having to arrive early or stay late, and that it wouldn’t cut into a minute of Christmas, summer, or spring break. All that would have to happen is the school district cutting in half the amount of time it subjects its elementary schoolers to standardized testing, as Pittsburgh schools are planning to do this year. A full week for elementary schoolers to be, well, elementary schoolers instead of test-taking automatons? I hope this isn’t the last story of this kind we see this year.

Pittsburgh schools are on the right track with this decision. If you’re playing along at home, you may have realized that up to this point, third-, fourth-, and fifth-graders have been spending two full school weeks filling out standardized tests. For a 180-day school year, that means students would be sitting tests about 5% of the time, before you even figure in the amount of time needed to prep for the test material, not to mention to teach students how to actually take a Scantron test. (Third graders, as it turns out, don’t come equipped with an inherent knowledge of how to bubble inside the lines using a No. 2 pencil.)

Standardized testing saps confidence from small children, who may find the material challenging enough, let alone the experience of sitting still at a desk with a black-and-white testing booklet all day. It makes going to school a chore instead of (hopefully) a pleasant experience. A classroom that’s been experiencing high levels of student engagement can see all of its momentum sapped by taking a week-long break to fill in A’s, B’s, C’s, and D’s on a Scantron. Of course there’s some value in assessing students on a yearly basis, but not to the soul-sucking extent most school districts do it these days, and you can probably guess my feelings on tying teacher compensation to student test scores. (Hint: it involves a lot of shouted references to “Value-Addled Mismanagement”. Also swearing.)

Some studies of standardized testing have suggested that as much of 72% of student test scores can be chalked up to little more than the student’s ability to take tests, and as a standardized-test-taking champ myself, I am 0% surprised by that fact. Pittsburgh is retaining its state-required standardized test (the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment) and the GRADE test, on the basis of which school reading grants are awarded, but I applaud their decision to trim the fat elsewhere, and I’m not the only one:

“Teachers have complained for so long. This isn’t just in Pittsburgh. This is nationally. They spend so much time testing the kids, which takes away from instructional time. It adds to the stress of the kids.”

Parents also are complaining about too much testing. More than 300 signed an online petition drive calling for reduction in testing in the district.

Parents, students, and teachers all in agreement? Now that is confluence of educational events that that doesn’t often happen, at least in my experience. Sounds like Pittsburgh schools are doing something exactly right.

(Image: Mighty Sequoia Studio/Shutterstock)