New Study Debunks Misconceptions About Student Testing

New Study Debunks Misconceptions About Student Testing

Teach Plus Research Finds Average Test Time Is Less Than Two Percent;
Uncovers Wide-Ranging Variations in Testing Time by School District

BOSTON, MA— A newly released study from Teach Plus demonstrates that urban students spend an average of only 1.7 percent of the school year taking state and district-required tests. The report, “The Student and the Stopwatch: How Much Time is Spent on Testing in American Schools,” also finds that students in “high-test” districts spend 3.3x as much time on test taking as students in “low-test” districts.

Teach Plus, a national non-profit that puts teacher leaders at the center of school and system-level reform, conducted the research in 12 urban and 20 surrounding suburban districts nationwide, with input from hundreds of kindergarten, third and seventh grade teachers. The report was unveiled at a February 5 launch event at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute in Washington, D.C.

“The report clearly demonstrates that the current polarized testing debate is not rooted in the reality our students face across the country,” said Dr. Celine Coggins, CEO of Teach Plus. “The amount of time students spend taking tests is considerably lower than most people would estimate. It is time to shift the national conversation on testing from the amount of test time to the quality of tests and ensuring that teachers have the information they need to help their students succeed.”
Report findings include:
• Across 12 urban districts in the study, the average amount of time students spend on state and district tests equals 1.7 percent of the school year in third and seventh year and substantially less in kindergarten.
The data reflects the amount of test time that the districts currently share with parents and the general public.
• The variation in test time across urban districts is large, with high-test districts spending 3.3x as much time on testing as low-test districts.
The variation between high-test and low-test districts can be as high as 105 hours. After nine school years, this amounts to about 19 instructional days, or almost four weeks of school.
• Teachers calculate test administration time to be more than double the length reported in district calendars in elementary grades.
On average, teachers reported spending about three times as much time in kindergarten and twice as much in third grade as the amount of time set aside for testing on district calendars. In seventh grade, the report on time-on-testing from teachers was closer to what the district calendars reported.

“As most of the country shifts to Common Core, there is an unprecedented opportunity for districts and states to rethink testing and ensure that the new tests better meet the needs of students, parents, and teachers. Taking the time to do this right by putting teachers at the center of the conversation will benefit students well into the future,” said Alice Johnson Cain, Vice President for Policy at Teach Plus.

The report suggests recommendations for district level policymakers, including the following:
• Shift the debate from global to local. Districts should evaluate their current testing regime in light of this new knowledge: even in the era of No Child Left Behind, there is no uniformity in “testing in America” but, instead, a wide-ranging set of expectations that vary considerably by district.
• Focus on test content over test time. There is no clear relationship between the time spent on testing and student test results. Teacher comments make clear that when tests are properly
used in conjunction with the curriculum, aligned to standards, and are part of a teacher’s regular instructional practice, the amount of time allocated for testing becomes a less important factor. Debating time-on-testing without a discussion of the test type and content misses the point.
• Proceed with Common Core implementation, recognizing that long-term gain will exceed short-term pain. The assessments associated with Common Core will reflect higher standards at each grade level. Measuring higher-order skills through short-answers and essays may take more time than current bubble tests but should better satisfy teachers’ wishes for tests that provide meaningful data on student progress, test higher-order skills, and improve instructional practice.
• Involve teachers in the test adoption process. District leaders need to listen to teachers about which tests are worthwhile (well-aligned to standards, integrated with the curriculum, and provide the information they need to improve their practice.) More information is on a teacher-created website, Assessment Advisor (
• Work with teachers to streamline testing in high-test districts. Districts at the higher end of the spectrum should commit to ensuring that their students are not shortchanged on instructional time and should streamline testing requirements. As a first step, they should ask teachers which district-mandated tests are useful – and which aren’t.

About Teach Plus
Teach Plus aims to improve outcomes for urban children by ensuring that a greater proportion of students have access to effective, experienced teachers. Teach Plus runs three programs designed to place teacher leaders at the center of reform: Teaching Policy Fellows, the Teach Plus Network, and T3: Turnaround Teacher Teams. 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 14,000 solutions-oriented teachers in six major cities across the country.