Students grumble about having to take another test. Turns out, teachers do, too.
About a third of St. Louis Public Schools’ elementary-level buildings are assessing their students less often this school year, at the suggestion of teachers, with the hope of leaving more time for instruction.
SLPS kids are typically tested biweekly, monthly, quarterly and for a few weeks straight each spring for state assessments. Some of those tests are face to face, others on a computer or tablet. They can last a few minutes or several hours.
“There’s almost not a single week where a kid does not have some form of district standardized assessment,” said Isaac Pollack, a network superintendent.
The theory is that teachers have myriad data points to know how their students are doing. In reality, “it can be a little much,” said Shannon McMurray, the academic instructional coach at Meramec Elementary School. “We want data, but we don’t want to have to just assess, assess, assess, and we don’t even have time to look at the data before we’re giving another assessment.”
All those tests can kill a kid’s spirit, she said.
The major federal education policy of the early 2000s known as No Child Left Behind ushered in an era of standardized testing in schools across the country. Some of the tough penalties for schools that don’t perform well on annual assessments have since been removed, but periods of the school year can still revolve around testing.
Teacher leadership teams at two schools in the district asked administrators if they could scale back the number of tests this school year. They wanted to drop the biweekly tests, which McMurray called “a bit ridiculous.”
And the central office said yes.
“It was freeing,” McMurray said.
SLPS began a model of semi-autonomous schools this school year called the Consortium Partnership Network. The staff of two elementary schools in the program right now — Meramec in Dutchtown and Ashland Elementary School in Penrose — have more flexibility to make decisions over staffing, schedule and curriculum.
The trial of dropping the biweekly tests is taking place beyond just the two consortium schools. SLPS initially waved them at six other schools for comparison, and later, to 15 total.
In June, the district will review whether teachers still had the data needed, more time for instruction, and in the long term, whether state proficiency scores went up.
“As much time as assessments take up away from instruction, if they're not also going to help generate better instruction as a result of analyzing the results, then they're a double waste of time,” said Jay Hartman, executive director of the CPN schools.
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