Testing fails the test

“Testing is not a substitute for curriculum and instruction. Good education cannot be achieved by a strategy of testing children, shaming educators and closing schools.”

– Diane Ravitch, a former U.S. assistant secretary of education and education policy analyst

If testing itself were somehow tested, many teachers and parents would give it a failing grade.

Major stakeholders in the Pittsburgh Public Schools already believe that. More than 300 people signed a recent online petition calling for testing to be cut back.

Now they have got their wish, at least for the lower grade levels. Last week, the school administration announced that the time spent on testing would be drastically reduced between kindergarten and grade-5. As the Post-Gazette’s Eleanor Chute reported, this will pay real dividends in the classroom.

In grades 3 to 5 the reduction will amount to 33 hours per school year, equal to more than five days of instruction time.

Praise is sounding in various quarters.

A national group that’s been a critic of testing has hailed Pittsburgh’s move as a model for the nation. What’s more, the district plans to have additional recommendations for grades 6 to 12 and content areas other than math and literacy for 2015-16.

But in the No Child Left Behind era, it’s impossible to escape the clutch of testing altogether. Tests required by the state and federal government will remain and they can be time-consuming.

They include the Pennsylvania System of School Assessment tests, the Keystone Exams and the GRADE test (Group Reading Assessment and Diagnostic Evaluation, required to receive Keystone to Opportunity reading grants).

Clearly, testing had gotten out of hand in the district. In 2013, required tests were given in Pittsburgh Public Schools more than 270 times in K-12.

The district is to be congratulated for listening to the critics and responding. With more than a week’s worth of instruction freed up, the proposition that testing is not a substitute for teaching is now put to the test.

-Pittsburgh Post-Gazette