All Test Prep Time Is Not Created Equal, New Study Finds

All Test Prep Time Is Not Created Equal, New Study Finds
Teach Plus Report Analyzes Conditions and Practices that Make Time Spent on Test Prep Valuable through First-of-its-Kind Framework of Activities

BOSTON, MA, April 28, 2016— A newly-released report from Teach Plus finds that time is not the sole driver of how teachers feel about test preparation.  Teachers’ perceptions of whether or not they spend the right amount of time on test prep hinge on a number of factors – including alignment of tests to curriculum, autonomy over activities teachers use to prepare students for tests, and the intrinsic value of each activity.  The report, “The Best of Time or the Worst of Time? What Teachers Think About Test Preparation,” presents a typology that measures time and value of 17 distinct test prep activities teachers use to support curriculum, develop skills, and improve students’ motivation. 

Teach Plus, a national non-profit that puts teacher leaders at the center of improvement at all levels of the education system, included the perspectives of nearly 400 teachers in the study.  The study encompassed the thousands of test prep activities that these teachers conducted during the course of one school year.

“This study clearly demonstrates that, far from a ‘drill and kill’ block of time, test preparation is a set of multi-faceted strategies some of which teachers find valuable and some of which they do not,” said Dr. Celine Coggins, CEO of Teach Plus.  “Rather than labeling all test preparation a waste of time, we should listen to teachers and only keep activities they see as most appropriate and valuable to improve student learning.”

Report findings are: 
1.    Time:  More than half of the teachers believe that the amount of test prep is too much and almost half believe that it’s about right — and that perception hinges on a number of factors.
While 57 percent, or the majority, of teachers in the study said they were spending “too much” time on test prep, 43 percent of teachers said the amount of test prep was “about right” or “too little.”

2.    Alignment:  Teachers are more likely to believe that the amount of test prep is right when tests are aligned to curriculum.
Teachers in the study who thought that the amount of test prep time was about right were more likely — 45 percent versus 28 percent — to also report that their state test was well-aligned to their curriculum.

3.    Autonomy:  The amount of decision-making ability teachers have when preparing their students for tests affects whether they think there is too much test prep or the amount of time is about right.
Teachers who thought that the amount of test prep was about right spent half their test prep time — 50 percent — on test prep activities of their own choice. Teachers who felt there was too much test prep were able to spend less than a third — 31 percent — of their test prep time on activities of their own choosing.

4.    Activities:  Teachers who say that the amount of test prep is about right spend almost all of their test prep time on activities they rate as valuable.
Teachers who felt that the amount of test prep is about right spent 89 percent of the test prep time on activities they felt were a “very good” or “good” use of time. Teachers who felt that they were spending too much time on test prep were spending about 68 percent of their time on activities they thought were a “very good” or “good” use of time.

The report suggests the following recommendations for policymakers:
•    Ensure that curriculum and assessments are aligned at the state, district, and school levels. States should ‘opt-in’ to adopting the new SMART (Support Making Assessments Reliable and Timely) Act provisions of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), which provides an opportunity for each state to take a closer look at its assessment system to ensure that tests are aligned to standards.

•    Give teachers the opportunity to inventory and evaluate test prep activities; keep what’s valuable, and jettison time-wasters. Districts should survey teachers on which activities give the most value to student learning, while at the same time streamlining and dropping test preparation activities that teachers consider a waste of time.

•    Expand student access to technology so that it is both meaningfully incorporated into classroom practice and helps students develop the skills needed for success on technology-based assessments. Districts should provide sufficient access to technology so that students can develop needed skills and familiarity prior to using it for testing, and so that teachers can support students in using the technology. 

•    Use predictive tests only if they are clearly aligned to the curriculum and the summative assessments. Districts should work with teachers experienced in administering predictive tests to determine whether they are truly useful as predictive tools. 

About Teach Plus
Teach Plus empowers excellent, experienced teachers to take leadership over key policy and practice issues that affect their students’ success. Teach Plus runs three programs designed to place teacher leaders at the center of improvements in policy and practice: Teaching Policy Fellowship, C2 Initiative, and T3 Initiative. The programs focus on demonstrably effective teachers who want to continue classroom teaching while also expanding their impact as leaders in their schools and in district, state, and national policy. Since its inception in August 2009, Teach Plus has grown to a network of more than 22,000 solutions-oriented teachers across the country.