The amount of time Tulsa Public Schools’ students are required to spend on district-mandated tests will be cut by 54 percent this school year.
Superintendent Deborah Gist announced at Monday’s board meeting that TPS will eliminate the Measures of Academic Progress, or MAP, test in English language arts for third grade; reduce the number of times secondary students are required to take Scholastic Reading Inventory tests; and make optional all check-in tests — those used to measure progress in various subjects throughout the year.
“I think it’s important that we just acknowledge that assessments are a really important part of teaching and learning,” Gist said at the board meeting. “They are the way, in whatever form they come in, they are the way in which we determine how our students are doing, both individually and as a group, and it helps us to inform our teaching so that we can better reach each of our students.
“Yet at the same time we need to make sure that the ways in which we are monitoring our students’ progress are as focused and as streamlined and as high-quality as they possibly can be,” she said. “It’s also very important that our teachers and their principals are actively involved in the decision-making about assessments. These are the educators who know our students the best.”
The changes will bring down the required time spent on tests by 54 percent, or more than 72 hours. In the 2014-2015 school year, students spent about 8,100 minutes on district-mandated tests. In 2015-2016, that number will be about 3,700 minutes.
“We are just ecstatic, over the moon,” said Shawna Mott-Wright, vice president of the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association. “We really appreciate all of the work that the testing task force did, and we super appreciate and are very grateful for Dr. Gist listening.”
The majority of the time eliminated is through making check-in tests optional. Last year, check-in tests accounted for nearly 4,000 minutes — or about 66 hours — worth of district-mandated tests.
“Check-ins, previously mandated by the district, are aligned to the district curriculum, state blueprints and state assessments,” said Chief Academic Officer Tracy Bayles. “Check-ins are a valuable tool for progress monitoring and will continue to be available as a resource.”
The Scholastic Reading Inventory test, used to determine a student’s reading level, will now be given three times a year rather than four times at the secondary level.
MAP reading and math tests for kindergarten through third-grade students will remain in place, but the additional MAP English language arts test for third-graders will be eliminated. According to a press statement from the district, the test was being eliminated because it was “determined to be less valuable for teachers.”
The decision to reduce district-mandated tests is based on recommendations from a task force of teachers that was put together last year to study the issue of overtesting in the district. Teacher representatives from all grades were selected based on recommendations by principals and from the Tulsa Classroom Teachers Association.
“Parents and teachers have been clear in their feedback that our district overstepped in the number of tests that were required by the district,” Gist said.
The task force was formed after two Skelly Elementary School teachers made national headlines for refusing to administer high-stakes student surveys and tests to their students. When Gist became superintendent this summer, she met with the group two times.
The Skelly teachers said the surveys were “developmentally inappropriate” for young children and said the new MAP tests were taking away instruction time.
The reduced testing, however, leaves in place most of the MAP testing in early grades. Students in kindergarten through second grade will be the only students in the district to see no change in the amount of district-required testing.
Earlier this year, some task force members said the group recommended that the district eliminate MAP testing for students in kindergarten through third grade. But Megan Cox, a kindergarten teacher at Whitman Elementary who is part of the task force, said the group ranked its priorities, and the top recommendations were accepted by the district, including the elimination of check-in tests.
Cox said the group was split on its views regarding MAP tests. Cox is a proponent of using MAP tests to meet state requirements. She said training on using the data from the tests, which Gist said will be provided to teachers this year, may help other teachers better understand MAP tests.
Though Mott-Wright said there is always room for improvement when it comes to testing, she stressed appreciation that Gist was listening to teachers.
“Nothing hurts more than being ‘pseudo-asked’ and not listened to,” Mott-Wright said.
“And she’s really listening, and not just for this. She’s listened to everything.”
Meredith Brown, a sixth-grade math and science teacher at Thoreau Demonstration Academy and a member of the task force, said the reductions in district-mandated tests addressed a lot of the group’s concerns.
Brown said Gist has been “extremely open” to listening and addressing concerns.
Board members expressed support of the decision. Member Gary Percefull also noted that many of the tests that parents find “egregious” are state-mandated.
“I hope that maybe our leadership on this issue, your leadership on this issue, will incentivize our state leaders to take a look at tests that are mandated by the state,” Percefull said to Gist.