The Truth About Testing

Posted: Tue, 10/09/2012 - 3:25pm Updated: Mon, 12/01/2014 - 11:52am

A philosophical argument regarding the value of testing has recently resurfaced in Indiana. Critics of testing have inaccurately portrayed the emphasis and time spent on testing as well as testing’s purpose and cost, and the Indiana Department of Education (IDOE) would like to set the record straight. Below, please find facts debunking the most common myths about testing as well as a review of money and time spent on testing in Indiana each year.

MYTH: All of Indiana’s students are subjected to tests required by law every year.

FACT: The truth is only students in grades 3-8 and 10 take test required by federal or state law each year. Neither federal nor state law requires any testing for students in grades K, 1, 2, 9, 11, or 12. Said differently, of the 13 grade levels (K-12), students are not tested at six levels (nearly half of all grades).

MYTH: Indiana’s schoolchildren spend an enormous amount of time taking these tests.

FACT: Students who are tested spend fewer than six and a half hours taking the tests required by federal and state law during each school year. Keep in mind that each school year is at least 180 days long, and each instructional day is a minimum of five hours long in grades 1-6 and a minimum of six hours in grades 7-12. When considered in perspective, six and a half hours (or less, depending on grade level) out of a minimum of 900 is a reasonable amount of time to spend on tests required by federal and state law. (Please refer to the table on page 3 for greater detail.)

MYTH: When it comes to testing, all that matters is whether a student passes or fails.

FACT: With a limited amount of testing, educators are provided reliable and valid information about each student’s skills and knowledge. After all, teachers need to know where their students have been and where they stand currently to be able to set a course for future learning. We must have a way to measure the areas in which students are succeeding and those in which students need more instruction. At a minimum, standardized tests tell us if students have mastered the basics in subjects like math and English/Language Arts (E/LA). In fact, data gathered from tests of students who do not pass are particularly valuable. The data help educators assess those students’ weaknesses and offer tailored instruction to help them get up to speed.

MYTH: Testing forces teachers to “teach to the test,” and that’s a bad thing.

FACT: As long as the tests actually test the skills and content we want students to learn and know, “teaching to the test” should not be considered taboo. In fact, we should encourage teachers to help students learn the content we believe will be fundamental to success in life.

HOW MUCH DOES TESTING COST?

The following list describes tests required by federal and/or state law and the costs associated with each test.

  • ISTEP+ – The ISTEP+ assessment is Indiana’s version of the test required by federal law to assess student proficiency in E/LA, mathematics, and science.  ISTEP+ is also required by state law. Students in grades 3-8 are tested in E/LA and math each year.  The science test is administered to students in grades 4 and 6.  In addition to the content areas tested as required by federal law, Indiana also requires students in grades 5 and 7 to participate in a social studies test. In Indiana, some students with disabilities may take ISTAR or IMAST instead of ISTEP+ for all or some content areas. ISTAR and IMAST take less time than ISTEP+. (Estimated annual cost for ISTEP+ = $22 million; estimated annual cost for IMAST = $1.5 million; ISTAR is an IDOE-sponsored assessment with no outside vendor.)
  • Graduation Qualifying Exam – Federal law requires states to administer E/LA, math and science tests to high school students. In Indiana, students must pass an Algebra 1 and English 10 end of course assessment (ECA) to graduate from high school without a waiver.  The Biology I ECA is NOT required by the state for graduation, but it fulfills the federal requirement for high school science testing. (Estimated annual cost for ECAs = $9 million)
  • IREAD-3 – The IREAD-3 test is administered to assess whether third grade students have acquired foundational reading skills necessary for successful learning in higher grades (Estimated annual cost for IREAD-3 = $650,000)
  • LAS-Links – This English Language Proficiency test is required only of students who are English language learners. (Estimated annual cost = $1 million)

The following are optional testing tools offered by the State to districts free of charge:

  • IREAD-K, IREAD-1, and IREAD-2 – These optional tools are provided by the state to help schools assess student reading skills at the end of each school year prior to IREAD-3 so targeted and individualized instruction can be delivered to students (IREAD K-2 assessments are IDOE-sponsored with no outside vendor; schools print, administer, and score these assessments if they choose to use them.)
  • mCLASS (DIBELS) and Acuity – In response to requests from districts and schools, the state provides a voluntary set of aligned diagnostic tests schools can use to attain fine-grained instructional information on student mastery of content in E/LA, math, science and social studies for grades K-8, in addition to Algebra 1 and English 10. Across Indiana, 62 percent of school corporations are using mCLASS, and 90 percent of school corporations are using Acuity. The use of state-provided tools frees up local dollars to be spent directly on addressing the needs of their students. (Estimated annual cost = $12 million)

There are numerous other testing tools available to schools, all of which are purchased, administered, and required at the local level; the state is not in any way involved in the administration of these tests. Examples include, but are not limited to, Scholastic Reading Inventory, Developmental Reading Assessment, Accelerated Reader, and Proficiency Aligned Learning Skills.

WHERE DOES INDIANA GET ITS TESTING DOLLARS?

While we’re on the topic of the testing costs, it is worth discussing state and federal funding for testing. Indiana currently spends approximately $6.6 billion in state education funding each year. This breaks down to approximately $6.3 billion in state tuition support and $300 million in other state appropriations to IDOE.  Indiana spends approximately $46.2 million on testing—roughly seven-tenths of a percent of our total state education budget.

Indiana also receives millions of dollars in federal funds each year that require us to administer certain assessments. In 2011, Indiana received approximately $351 million in Title I funds and approximately $264 million in Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) funding. Under IDEA, of the 20 Indicators required, Indicator 3 states we must report assessment data, one component of which is comparing students with disabilities to their nondisabled peers. In order to report performance of students with disabilities against their nondisabled peers we must test both populations of students. If we want to continue receiving federal funds under Title I and IDEA, we must test.

From a sheer dollars and cents perspective, for every $46 dollars we spend on testing, we receive roughly $615 dollars in federal funds. So, while only spending less than one percent of our state education funding on testing, we receive a 1200 percent return on our investment by way of federal funding.

HOW MUCH TIME DO INDIANA’S STUDENTS SPEND ON TESTING EACH YEAR?

The following table outlines the amount of time a student spends on testing each year at each grade level. Indiana’s students spend a minimum of 900 hours in the classroom each school year, and they only spend 4.5 to 6.25 hours a year on tests required by law. 

 

  Grade 3 Grade 4 Grade 5 Grade 6 Grade 7 Grade 8 High School
E/LA 2 hrs 2 hrs 2 hrs 2 hrs 2 hrs 2 hrs English 10 - 1.8 hrs
Math 2.75 hrs 2.75 hrs 2.75 hrs 2.75 hrs 2.75 hrs 2.75 hrs Algebra 1 - 1.8 hrs
Science   1.5 hrs   1.5 hrs     Biology 1 - 55 min
SocialStudies     1.5 hrs   1.5 hrs    
IREAD-3 62 min            
TOTAL TIME About 5.75 hours 6.25 hours 6.25 hours 6.25 hours 6.25 hours 4.75 hours About 4.5 hours

 

We hope this information clears up any misconceptions about testing in Indiana.  If you have any questions regarding testing, please don’t hesitate to contact us at (317) 232-6610 or superintendent@doe.in.gov.