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Educators, parents back limit on tests

A new survey by the Council of the Great City Schools found that students, on average, take about eight standardized tests per year.
A new survey by the Council of the Great City Schools found that students, on average, take about eight standardized tests per year. Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press

Educators and parents expressed satisfaction with the Obama administration’s announcement Saturday that it would urge Congress to limit the amount of time students spend on testing to 2 percent of their total time in school.

And though some said the administration’s suggestion did not go far enough to reduce the problem of overtesting, they welcomed the announcement as a positive step amid bipartisan backlash over standardized testing.

“Everyone will be happy with this,” said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, who said that it has long been known among teachers and parents that testing can take its toll on students.

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“They need to stop making the tests so high stakes,” said Karen Kast-McBride, a parent of two students at a Boston public high school.

“My daughter is in a program for emotionally fragile students and I blame some of that on the high-stakes testing. Kids can’t deal with the testing and it makes them not want to go to school and learn because they think they’ll do poorly,” Kast-McBride said.

Stutman noted that while he is grateful for the decision to limit the amount of time spent on testing, he wonders whether the extensive amount of time teachers take to prepare students for testing will be taken into account.

“The decisions made in regards to testing over the past decade have affected negatively students, parents, teachers, and schools, and I hope we’re realizing now that decisions like this should be vetted more thoroughly,” Stutman said.

Saturday’s announcement was accompanied by the release of a survey by the Council of the Great City Schools, which found that students, on average, take about eight standardized tests per year. That amounts to a total of about 112 tests per student from pre-kindergarten through high school graduation. The study also noted that in eighth grade, when tests occur most often, they consume about 2.3 percent of total class time, or 20 to 25 hours.

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“Schools are testing at around 2 percent of the time now, so I don’t see this doing much,” said Jim Stergios, executive director of Pioneer Institute, a Boston-based think tank that focuses in part on education policy.

“I think this is largely a political statement. It’s election season,” Stergios said.

Lisa Guisbond, executive director of Citizens for Public Schools, said she wants the administration to do more.

“Rollbacks in the amount of mandatory tests given would be the kind of real change that advocates in the anti-testing movement are looking for,” she said. “But it’s a good sign that the president is listening to the opposition and it should encourage everyone in the movement to make more noise.”

Paul Reville, former secretary of education for the commonwealth, said that while it’s necessary to reduce the quantity of testing, policy should be aimed at improving the quality of testing.

“There are tests worth teaching to, tests that promote analytical and critical thinking, not just drill-and-kill testing,” Reville said. “The advancement of technology allows teachers to better analyze and understand students’ reasoning when answering questions. That kind of testing can help close the achievement gap.”


Eric Bosco can be reached at eric.bosco@globe.com.