Friday, April 1, 2011

So many tests, so little time

Parents are asking so many questions about the latest batch of tests that Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools this week released a new explainer on all the tests kids take.

Schools will give a trial version of the new "summative assessments" next week. Those are year-end exams designed by a CMS contractor to size up student mastery of academic subjects, as well as teachers' effectiveness. Students will take a full version of those tests at the end of this school year.

CMS hasn't finished creating all the new exams that will be a foundation for performance pay in 2014. Coming next school year are tests in music, physical education, dance, visual arts and other subjects that require more than pencil-and-paper multiple-choice questions. Teachers are helping with those, and the cost is included in the $1.9 million currently budgeted for test design.

Superintendent Peter Gorman used his weekly news briefing to try to assure parents that their children aren't spending excessive time on testing, even with the new ones. Kids in K-2 spend a total of 4 hours and 15 minutes on testing, including the new ones, he said. That's out of 1,035 hours of class time -- a number that jumps to 1,170 with the longer school day next year.

In grades 3, 4, 6 and 7, students take state reading and math End of Grade exams and will add CMS social studies and science tests. That will be a total of 17 hours of testing, Gorman said. In grades 5 and 8, students take the state science exam, which brings the total to 19.5 hours. That's because the state requires four hours for its tests, while CMS' take 90 minutes.

High school testing is harder to calculate. The new plan calls for all courses to have a final exam designed by the state or CMS. But students also take a variety of other tests, including Advanced Placement, IB, PSAT and SAT.

While the total hours may not be overwhelming for students (I suspect parents would say that's open to debate), K-2 teachers are grappling with the demands of testing their kids one at a time -- 15 minutes each for reading, math, science and social studies. Because teachers' effectiveness ratings, and eventually their pay, will ride on results of these tests, they're supposed to either have a proctor watching or swap students, so they're not testing their own kids.

Which brings me to a final point: If you're a parent or school volunteer, expect to be begged to help with proctoring. And if you're a retiree or someone else with time to spare, you'd endear yourself to local educators if you'd call your nearest school or get in touch with the CMS volunteer office to step up.


Anonymous said...

The testing window is one week for this next round, so although it may only be 30 minutes per k-2 student, if a school has 200 in each grade, that comes to 300 testing hours one-on-one by teachers. What is to come of the other 23 students while the teacher is testing?

Anonymous said...

Completely assinine! Unbelievable.

Anonymous said...

As usual, CMS is not being truthful with the numbers about testing.

Here is the reality in high school:
First semester exams are done one per day, and students are required to sit for 5 1/2 hours, often for an exam that is only one or two hours long. That is due to the concern for those with educational learning issues and who have 504 or IEP plans. Then there are one or two makeup days.

End of the year exams are done the same way, with two makeup days at least.

Prior to this in May, IB and AP students take exams. The AP tests taken in May each year by high school students require at least 3 hours of testing, and the student does not go to classes before or afterwards because of the rigor of the test and because students may also need to take a second test on the same day.

The IB tests vary in length, but follow essentially the same idea. A student who took the required 6 or 7 courses for the IB diploma will miss 6 to 7 days of class, and may miss more due to also taking AP tests.

Thus seniors and some juniors get little class time during May.

Mid-term exams (mid-fall, spring) have finally been shortened and depending on the school, done during the regular class period like a regular test.

In the fall, sophomores and juniors are required to take the PSAT tests paid for by CMS. Freshmen and any seniors who come until 10:30 twiddle their fingers for more than 3 hours.

In the spring, the 10th grade writing test, the sophomores test and the rest of the student body twiddles their thumbs for 2 hours 15 minutes or more.

On both of those days the students also have shortened classes.

Add in this week's field tests, which will take out instruction time. Add in the required quarterly tests in subjects like math.

Cannot the people downtown see that we are not teaching thinking but teaching students how to bubble in multiple-choice tests?

csawyer said...

Volunteering to proctor tests enables CMS to hide the true cost of testing. Parents who are concerned about the proliferation of high stakes tests -- those to be used to evaluate teachers should consider NOT volunteering to proctor EOGs, EOCs, and the new tests. Just say NO to volunteer proctoring. Let Area and Central administrators proctor.

Also, sign the petition for Fair and Effective Teacher Assessment at

Anonymous said...

So teachers administer the K-2 tests one on one, while teaching assistants (positions likely to be cut due to budget issues) and volunteers manage the rest of the class, and according to Gorman, classroom instruction is supposed to continue during this time.

So, Gorman's method of evaluating his personnel is dependent upon the participation of volunteers.

Let me expose the absurdity of this by making an analogy. What if USAirways devised a new method of evaluating its pilots by having them interact individually with passengers, while volunteers took turns flying the plane?

Anonymous said...

Parents need to say "No" to all that testing as many others are already doing all over the country.


And visit

for some action ideas.

Also join Uniting 4 Kids:

Anonymous said...

I teach at CMS. People have NO IDEA (Ms. Helms) how much time is spent just to prepare for these silly little tests. Don't you realize that so much of education isn't about instant reactions but can sometimes take years for an individual to put it all together? Also, many frazzled teachers are taking out their fears on the kids by saying things like, "My job depends on you doing well." What kind of psychological BS is that doing to these small children. I come home from school drained, exhausted and saddened. Wake up, Ms. have NO IDEA what you are saying when you ask for people to volunteer to proctor. Come to think of it, have you even spent any time in classroom?

Ann Doss Helms said...

I'm not sure why noting that schools will be seeking proctors comes across as endorsement of the testing; it wasn't meant that way. I've been in classrooms as a reporter and a parent -- including many tedious hours spent proctoring EOGs and EOCs. When I did that, I viewed it as a way to take that task off the backs of school staff, not to vote for more testing.

Having said that, I don't think visiting classrooms is the same as teaching day in and out. I can imagine the physical, mental and emotional energy that goes into that, but I have not done it myself.

Anonymous said...

It would also save time, particularly for the lower grades, if parents just didn't send kids to school on these BS testing days. They can learn more at home reading a book or playing on a computer than they can during school hours. When a whole class tests, the students who finish early cannot doodle, read or do anything but stare into space for sometimes more than 2 hours. For the K-2 tests that must be administered individually, what kind of instruction are they going to get from whomever is assigned to supervise the class?

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a lot of schools just need help planning how to best administer the tests. Our school, Highland Creek Elementary (a school of 1200+ students) has designed a testing blitz strategy. They are testing one class at a time. Half of the kids will be tested by the testing team for the 60-90 mins, the other half will receive instruction. Then they flip and the other half gets tested. Learning loss should be minimal under this approach. Also, the testing and classroom support is being handled with staff, not volunteers. If this strategy is successful during the field test, maybe is can be a model for other schools to follow.

Anonymous said...

I have seen what testing has done for the state of Virginia. All I have seen in classroom observations (I have done 100's) is "review"! I do not blame the teachers; they are teaching to the test, especially if their job depends on it. Virginia now has students that pass tests but do not have "critical thinking" or "problem solving" skills". As far as testing only taking a few hours; that is a joke. Teachers start preparing for the tests long before that. Who's brilliant idea was it to test Physical Education, arts, music, etc??? It costs money and once again, we take the love of learning away from the students. One good thing, our kids can pass a test in Virginia, but we cannot figure out how to exit the building.

Anonymous said...

Testing has nothing to do with learning - doing interesting activities has everything to do with learning - and it's effortless if children are engaged in meaningful, interesting work.

This testing mania has everything to do with evaluating teachers - and giving inordinate amounts of tests to young children is CHILD ABUSE. You can't keep picking up the plant out of the pot every few weeks to see how long the roots have grown without killing the plant, let alone see it ever bloom.


Anonymous said...

We need details on the Pfp plan. Will advanced degrees and NBPTS status be eliminated? Will all testing costs and PfP salaries come out of the teacher salary pool? Will only a limited amount of teachers be allowed in the upper quartile? Will employees at high performing schools be penalized because their students have less room to grow? Ann, we've asked these questions and can not get an answer from the PfP team. A public interview with Gorman. Baxter and Samuelson asking these types of questions would be great.

Wiley Coyote said...

1 – Devise a curriculum for every course from K-12

2 – Have all teachers use the same book(s) in every school.

3 – Allow teachers to teach the subject matter as they see fit.

4 – During the course of the year, give “progress tests” at certain points. Teachers give test all the time so there would be no difference here, other than the district putting these progress tests together instead of the teacher. The teacher will not know what is on the test but questions will be applicable to what should have been taught to that point based on the curriculum. Scores would be a portion of the student’s overall grade and at the end of the year, test scores would be analyzed to determine how effect the teacher was at teaching the subject.

I know I know. I’ll get “well, a teacher in the suburbs might not have some of the same challenges a teacher teaching the same subject from the same book in the inner city might have”. I’m certainly not an expert, but it seems to me educrat brainpower could devise a scale allowing for differences in student makeup in the classroom.

5 – Eliminate the EOG, EOY or EOC test at the end of the year and use the progress tests as a cumulative grade along with other grades received; homework, projects, etc.

6 – Since the district would have a baseline of what they feel the average student should be learning or have learned, use that as PART of teacher evaluations and NOT just one year end test.
The last test of the year would obviously contain questions going back to the beginning of the year.

I believe we all want the same thing – effective teachers and for students to learn and progress through their schooling.

Using just one year end test to determine a teacher’s ability and salary or what a student has or should have learned, is not an effective way to evaluate either of them.

Ann Doss Helms said...

8:38 a.m.: I'm sitting down with Gorman, Baxter and a few other CMS folks tomorrow, so I can ask again. But I've been repeatedly told the same thing: They just don't know yet because they're still working on specifics of this plan. Obviously, not knowing where the money will come from is a big unknown that's causing a lot of anxiety.

By definition, only one out of four teachers can be in the top quartile. I don't think CMS has decided what percentage will get rewarded, but they have consistently said it will be a percentile system. And yes, that would seem to mean that even if everyone improves, only a fraction of the group can reap the benefits of performance pay.

Anonymous said...

CMS motto
"Ready, Fire, Aim!!!"

Anonymous said...

There you go Ann, you've got it. Only a fraction of the teachers will reap the benefits of Pay for Performance.

I do not think that Gorman thought that we were footsy enough to figure that out. He thinks that all teachers are nincompoops.

Any word on when he's closing on his house?

Anonymous said...

I don't know where they got those testing time estimates for K-2. I tested a 1st grader today for science it took 30 minutes. The first grade reading assessments took between 40 minutes and 70 minutes.

Anonymous said...

Ann, could you also ask for clarification about how long these tests are supposed to take? I've received reports from two different schools that they are taking much longer than they'd budgeted. One teacher said she was able to finish testing 4 children total today. One cried. Another put down his pencil because his hand was tired from writing. At another school, testing hours have been extended to the full day for every day this week which means the classroom teachers are not able to teach for far longer than was estimated.

Anonymous said...

Ann thanks for being another pair of eyes on this issue. Teachers have been told by Baxter and Gorman that they simply do not have answers. What professional leader would make such a huge decision on a policy that he has know idea how he will maintain it, or how it will affect everyone involved.

Anonymous said...

At my school today, the k-2 teachers were taking closer to 50 minutes per child (not 15). The tests were developmentally inappropriate also. How are we supposed to trust CMS with pay-for-performance when a field test isn't going according to plan?

Anonymous said...

Ann, Please call Gorman on his ridiculous assertions regarding how much classroom time this will take. Torrence Creek has cancelled library, art, music and p.e. classes this week so that those teachers can give tests. Classroom teachers are out of the classroom for extended periods so that they can administer tests to students in other classes - and this is only for the trial! What will they do next year when there are multiple tests and no assistants.

In addition my son's middle school has already announced that it will build in additional "review" time to prepare for these tests, which will take the place of learning new material.

Finally what about teachers who teach T.D. or honors students? They are teaching students at the top of the acheivement growth curve and so there can be no meaningful "growth" under the proposed formula. Will their jobs be targeted first?

As a parent I am extremely frustrated with both Gorman and the Board for allowing this to go forward. We should be using these funds to save classroom jobs.

Anonymous said...

God help us all if CMS discovers an effectiveness achievement gap between white, black, Asian and Hispanic teachers. What about a gender gap? Which group will ultimately be paid more?

This has to be something that can be measured since race, class and gender are taken into account on every single student standardized test at the state and national level.

Or, will CMS transparently brush this statistic under the rug?