Testing Opportunity (Costs)

Testing is a hot topic these days.  I was impressed by the number of parents and teachers who came to Jamie Mathieson’s presentation on testing recently.  And I really liked what one teacher had to say about opportunity cost.  He wasn’t talking about the dollar cost (but I will in a minute), he was talking about the cost in terms of time.

First, there’s instructional time spent preparing for tests instead of learning new material.  We don’t just take the test.  At the elementary level we practice the specific vocabulary of each test (passage means story, theme means main idea).  We practice the format of each test (Which of the following questions is answered in paragraph 3?).  And we practice the directions on the test (Choose all answers that apply).  This takes a lot of time with 8 year olds.  We’re encouraged to do it because the division is measured by the SOLs and the teacher is measured by Interactive Achievement (ia) and MAP.

Then instructional time is spent taking the tests.  The actual test may take only one or two hours, but add in time spent organizing 25 little ones to head to the computer lab (after snack, get your books, EVERYONE goes to the bathroom).  Add in settling down and logging on (Joey cannot sit next to Sally, at least 4 of them can’t remember their usernames and passcodes – because they’re 8).  Then we wait for almost everyone to finish (from the 15 minute kids who click away to the 2 hour kids who labor over every question).  Throw in lunch and recess (highly recommended) and the better part of a whole day is gone.  Do this several times a year for MAP, ia, and SOLs.  Do it for several subjects (reading, math and sometimes science and social studies).  Then split up reading and math into two day administrations (for third grade SOLs in May) and a lot of time has left the classroom and evaporated into the stuffy air of the computer lab.

We’re told that these tests yield all kinds of valuable information to guide individualized instruction.  This may be true.  However, a good teacher already knows this information about her students, and much more reliably than a one shot test can reveal.  The opportunity cost of pouring over copious amounts of data provided by MAP and Interactive Achievement is time teachers would much rather spend planning new experiences, improving old lessons, and creating assessments that are less standardized and more unique to the instruction of each group of learner.  A teacher can’t do it all.  The time spent analyzing test data has a price.

Finally, the tests themselves have a price reported by Jamie Mathieson to be $10/student for MAP plus $10-$15/student for ia.  I find things rather meaningless without a comparison.  Here’s one for you.  I get $100 per year to spend on my classroom.  That’s about $4/student.  The division pays 5-6 times more for testing than it provides me supply money for teaching.  Talk about opportunity cost.

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5 thoughts on “Testing Opportunity (Costs)

  1. Good job, but there’s a cost to students, too. I’ve had children cry, break pencils, refuse to go on because they don’t know an answer, and even wet their pants during testing. Our Director of Testing has said more than once that this is the teacher’s fault for not presenting the “opportunity” appropriately. What happens to the cost of testing if we factor in his salary?

  2. “The opportunity cost of pouring over copious amounts of data provided by MAP and Interactive Achievement is time teachers would much rather spend planning new experiences, improving old lessons, and creating assessments that are less standardized and more unique to the instruction of each group of learner.” Yer darned tootin. Why does the acquisition of a PhD prevent otherwise intelligent people from understanding this?

  3. Great article. There is so much lost due to all of this testing… far more is lost than is gained by the data received from these tests.

    Please picture your 7 year old child, niece, nephew, cousin, grandchild, friend’s child.. etc… and think about them being forced to sit in front of computers to be tested on material that is not part of our curriculum. No matter how much we PUMP them up and tell them to believe in themselves, no matter how positive we try to make it, no matter what we do to reduce their stress, we can’t. Some children will stress out so bad they fall apart, as the teacher above mentioned. I’ve seen children shred paper or other items out of shear nerves. We do not place that stress on them. As a fellow teacher said today… children who are 7 should feel like they can go out and be and do ANYTHING they want, instead they feel defeated because they do not get a certain score on a test that we can’t teach them what they got wrong… 7 years old… taking tests on a curriculum NOT taught.. but we are forced to teach so that they can pass it… this in addition to the curriculum mandated by the state… then you add in the IA tests that require us to teach them HOW to take the test…

    Because of all of this testing..we are losing our place ( as teachers) to do what we deem is “truly” best for children… we spend day in and day out with these sweet babies and oddly we do know what is best for them.. but we are denied that right by those that have not set foot in a classroom ( other than to observe..) in so long that I bet.. there is no way they could come back and do what we do EVERY day for 8 hours a day… YET they have taken away my professional judgement and they will not allow me to make the decision about what is really best for my child… not what they THINK is best for my child based on another useless test score sitting on a document on a computer somewhere…

    The data we receive from MAP tells us all the EXTRA stuff that these children should be taught in order to get the projected score for the spring… now.. MAP does not know my child and despite the fact that we were told MAP would “know” if our children were “guessing” on the test… it really does NOT know… so I have seen 7 year olds be asked questions about metaphors, similes, alliteration, satires, memoirs.. etc… I can attest.. because I spend 8 hours a day with these children.. that they were in fact NOT ready to be taught that material… but if I want them to do well on MAP so that I will be judged as a good teacher… then I must teach those things.. along with so many other things… As a teacher I struggle to figure out just when and where it is appropriate for me to teach a 7 year old about a satire or a memoir… and make sure it fits in with the curriculum guide that was designed to meet all of the state mandated SOLS AND more so that they are ready for 3rd grade and the first year of true SOL tests.

    MAP data does not effectively help me teach my children…. MAP data dictates more meetings to discuss scores and what we will do to raise those scores although I am given NO extra assistance to teach 22 children with 22 different scores who need 22 different things and in order to get 22 children to ALL get the score they are supposed to get according to a computer that does NOT know my child.

    As much as I dislike the amount of testing we do.. the tests that I have the least amount of issues with are the SOLs since they are testing what I am required by the state to teach. But, the SOL test formats are insanely ridiculous and require copious amounts of time to teach them HOW to take the test so they don’t fail… because these tests are written to make children fail…

    Maybe I sound like just another whiny teacher who does nothing but complain.. but I hope you hear me and understand that my plea is not about me… my plea is about what we put our children through at such young ages… I absolutely despise what we do to children. It is no wonder they fall apart and have test anxiety at a young age… they are forced to take SO many computerized tests before they ever hit a double digit age…. what has this society come to? Why do the powers that be.. wherever they be… feel that more testing makes our children smarter? We don’t have time to teach children to think anymore.. we have time to teach them exactly what they have to do to pass the damn test…

    • You don’t sound like a whiny teacher, but a champion of children. Thank you for caring so much about my kids.

  4. I too agree that we are putting WAY to much emphasis on these non SOL tests. The county has gone hog wild with its MAP, IA,Benchmarks, etc… Teacher given individualized assessments and quick group assessments are SO much more meaningful than all this computerized mumbo jumbo. It allows the teacher to be more in tune with individualized needs vs a graph or chart full of meaningless numbers on a standardized chart. They are forcing teachers of even kindergarteners to be subjected to these formats and online testing. They are having the pre k teachers use technology and testing formats to introduce it as well. We need to let parents know what is going on, stick to the required SOL testing in the specified grades (it doesn’t start until third grade yet we start at age 4!), and demand that the tons of money that is spent on these frivolous tests be spent on OUR CHILDREN, THEIR CLASSROOM NEEDS, and retaining the quality veteran teachers that are being forced out of our school system by the misguided administration.

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