School districts may be testing too much, report states

Published 7:00 am Tuesday, April 10, 2018

A new study by Mississippi First found that some school districts in Mississippi may be over-testing students.

Each state has its own requirements for student testing to assess student understanding of the curriculum and give insight to necessary program changes in the future. While Mississippi mandates a certain number of tests for each school, districts have the power to implement additional district-level tests.

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The Mississippi First report found that district tests generally ranged from six additional tests per grade, to 22 additional tests per grade. According to the report, schools that spent less time on testing actually performed better.

“Low-performing districts in our sample administered more tests and spent more time testing than high-performing districts,” the report states. “Low-performing districts prioritized test prep over content instruction for at least 25 percent of their instructional year.”

When districts focus on testing, instructional time is minimized, the report states. As instructional time lessens, teachers lose the opportunity to teach necessary content. As a result, students are left without a foundation in core material – leading to lower test scores.

“Every minute spent testing is one fewer minute for instruction,” the report states.

Pearl River County is the home to three school districts, all of which have separate testing regulations.

The Poplarville School District mandates a relatively low number of yearly tests.

According to an assessment calendar sent by Superintendent Carl Merritt, “students in grades three through eight participate in seven to nine days of benchmark assessments each year.”

High school students in Poplarville are instructed through a “block” schedule. “Grades nine through 12 spend as little as four or as much as eight days on benchmark assessments depending on their individual schedule,” the calendar states.

Merritt said a lot of work goes into the District’s testing schedule. He said it is more than just sitting students down for a test – time is also spent on preparation and data analysis. Merritt said that every year, faculty engage in strategic planning meetings to determine if marks are being met and if any changes are needed. 

The Pearl River County School District has slightly different requirements. PRC Superintendent Alan Lumpkin said kindergarten through eighth-grade students are given three yearly assessments in the fall, winter and spring. The assessments do not count against students’ grades, but provide teachers with insight on how their students are doing, and ways in which they need to improve, Lumpkin said. On a high school level, students are given a series of 4 common assessments every nine weeks to test their performance and prepare them for state testing. These common assessments do count against a student’s grade, Lumpkin said.

“We are very proud of our students and teachers. They do very well in state testing,” Lumpkin said.

Lumpkin said PRC faculty meet four times per year to analyze data, discuss results, and determine if changes are needed. He said that while testing is necessary for student development and teacher insight, he believes that conversations are necessary on the state and local level about the balance of testing vs. instruction.

Mary Williams, Picayune School District’s Test Coordinator, said that District mandates benchmark testing every nine weeks for all grade levels, K-12.

Williams said the district is proactive in relation to data analysis. On a District level, faculty discuss principles four times per year and share testing results. On a local level, principals meet with teachers every week to determine how well schools are doing and how to improve testing methods, Williams said.

The Mississippi First report gives several recommendations to improve testing on a local level, such as publishing a table of standardized tests, supporting teacher review, creating formalized planning procedures, and supporting teacher-created tests.