Are NJ students getting too many tests?
Parents and even some teachers in communities across the Garden State are increasingly complaining about the number of tests being given to students.
In Marlboro, parents have launched an online petition calling on education officials to cut back on testing schedules, because students are getting stressed out and hyper-focused on passing the tests instead of actually learning about the subjects they're studying.
The Marlboro petition specifically singles out New Jersey's mandated Common Core curriculum and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test.
According to Dan Katz, professor of education at Seton Hall University, we've been in a cycle of educational policy over the past 30 years that has been emphasizing "the narrative that our schools are failing us. And that was pushed into overdrive, first with the No Child Left Behind Act and then with the Race to the Top grant program, both emphasizing standardized test-based accountability. But now, there is too much emphasis on testing. A standardized test, if it is designed very well, is one approximation of learning, but it is not learning in and of itself."
Katz said that with such a strong emphasis on testing, "Students are being subjected to a much more narrow curriculum. You find that subjects that are not tested are almost finding themselves orphaned. In many cases, early elementary students are not getting the social studies curriculum, we're trimming back on art and music, there have been schools cutting back on recess time."
The result, he said, is a buildup of stress in teachers, and that's almost always passed on to students, which is unhealthy.
"School should be challenging, but that challenge should be fun," Katz said.
If we want people to learn, sometimes you have to lower the stakes. You have to give them space where they can be inventive, where they can be creative. Data and testing is important, but kids need space to explore, fail, and learn from their failures, and if everything focuses and zeroes in on a test, then we really risk increasing the number of kids who see school as tedium."
Dr. Shannon Riley Ayers, professor of education at the National Institute for Early Education Research at Rutgers University, agrees there are instances where we are overdoing the focus on testing.
"We may be over-testing children in some areas and forgetting about other cognitive skills, or overlooking other areas of learning," she said.
Riley Ayers also said a teacher's behavior has a great influence on that teacher's students, and when they're preparing for a test, "that's where we see a dip in engagement, and students' interest in learning wanes."
Michael Yaple, a spokesman for the New Jersey Department of Education, said federal policy requires kids of all ages from third through eighth grade to be tested on a variety of subjects, but school districts do have the option and ability to implement their own testing beyond that.
Yaple said this is "entirely a local decision whether to use additional tests, and which ones to use. School officials evaluate the amount of testing they require each year, as they look at how all the pieces of assessment and instruction fit together."