Last week, Georgia educators held a meeting with Gov. Brian Kemp to discuss education. Teachers and administrators complained about the number of tests they need to give, arguing that they gave students anxiety. In 2016, the state reduced the number of Georgia Milestones exams students must take from 32 to 24, but this is still far above the federal requirement of 17.
The teachers’ concerns with mandatory standardized testing are justified. Overtesting leads to stress and hurts students’ ability to learn, and Georgia should reduce the number of mandatory standardized tests.
Standardized testing certainly serves a purpose. It allows the government to compare schools and monitor changes in performance. Indeed, these tests play an important role in keeping teachers and schools accountable for the success of their students.
But overtesting gets in the way of teaching. According to the Center on Education Policy (CEP) of George Washington University, 81% of teachers say that students spend too much time taking tests mandated by the state or school districts. This problem can have major impacts on students.
For example, frequent testing may contribute to greater levels of anxiety and stress in students. At the education meeting on Oct. 9, the teachers shared horror stories of students leaving after becoming physically sick from anxiety. The broader data back up these pieces of anecdotal evidence. According to the American Test Anxieties Association, most students consider testing and schoolwork the most stressful aspect of their lives, and between 16% and 20% of students have high levels of test anxiety, along with another 18% with moderate levels of test anxiety. By having a high number of mandatory tests, Georgia schools are exacerbating students’ anxiety and stress, distracting students from learning.
The widespread and constant testing also takes away time that could instead be used for instruction. A study of urban schools by the Council of the Great City Schools found that eighth-grade students spent 4.22 days or 2.34% of school time during the 2014-2015 school year on mandatory tests, meaning that students spent nearly a full school week on mandatory tests. Further, this number does not include the time needed to administer or prepare for testing. A survey from the CEP found that most teachers believe they spend too much time preparing students for district- or state-mandated tests. Over a quarter of teachers said they spent over a month preparing students for district-mandated tests, and 29% believed that they spent over a month preparing for state-mandated tests.
It’s important to find a balance. Standardized tests have their place, but Georgia has too many. For a more productive learning environment, the state and local school districts should reduce the number of tests it requires students to take.