Sunday, April 28, 2013

Just How Much Instruction Is Lost Due To Testing?

It's been a grueling two weeks for teachers across the state, as we administered farcically long state tests to children who were unnecessarily spooked by all the warnings that their grades would plummet. There is no question, I think, that these were two lost weeks--weeks that could be been dedicated to real instruction, but were sacrificed to the billionaires who believe that testing is more important than learning.

Losing two weeks of instruction is bad enough, but it's not the whole story. Many, if not most, ELA and math teachers will be gone for a week or longer to help grade these tests. That's at least another week where our students will be sitting around, doing worksheets or puzzles or whatever the subs can cajole them into doing in our absence. So now we've lost three weeks of math and ELA instruction.

Add in the test prep that almost all of us are required to do. I spent comparatively little time on test prep myself, mostly because I believe it to be a waste of time and the amount of prep I do has zero correlation to the evaluation I receive (staunch readers will recall that I was at the very bottom on my TDAs one year and at the very top the next, so I have that all important "data" to back up the fact that test prep is bullshit). Even so, I spent about two weeks doing little else besides prep, and I imagine most of my colleagues did the same. So now, we are up to five weeks of instruction lost.

There are variables that are difficult to quantify, as well. For example, so much of the school year is dedicated to these tests that students (perhaps rightly) feel that not much else matters, especially now that the tests are history. It's inevitable that students will slack off a bit now, for the remaining two months of the year. How much they'll slack off depends on their usual dedication to learning, their teachers dedication, and the school culture, but even in the best case it is hard to imagine that students will be working as hard in the final eight weeks as they did in the first thirty two. Let's be generous and say that this slacking off will only be the equivalent of losing one week of the remaining eight.

In total, that's six weeks worth of instruction lost to testing, at a minimum. The mind boggles at the thought of how much more learning will evaporate once the new evaluation system is in place and students are tested in every subject, in every grade. (And you can assume that when that happens, teachers will be spending a LOT more time on test prep knowing their jobs may be on the line.)

But let's be generous once again, and assume that we will only lose the six weeks we currently lose. That means that a child starting in NYC public schools next year in first grade and graduating from a NYC high school can expect to lose--wait for it--a whopping SEVENTY-TWO weeks to testing mania.

Seventy two weeks. And remember, that's assuming that things don't get worse when we start testing every subject.

Given that there are 40 school weeks in a year, that totals nearly two years of instruction lost to testing. Is it any wonder our students are continuing to fall behind? Rather than teaching them things, we are testing them on things that we simply don't have enough time to teach.

Of course, the reformers will say we need to be accountable. To which I reply, why aren't the reformers accountable for all the instructional time they are stealing from our kids?

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