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States begin shedding standardized tests in K12

In just the last few months, several districts and states have eliminated tests and cut assessment time to make room for instruction and reduce stress.

The average student takes 112 mandated standardized tests from pre-K through grade 12, according to the Council of the Great City Schools.

“It allows superintendents and other policymakers to experiment with and implement alternative forms of assessment based on real performance, not just filling in bubbles,” says Bob Schaeffer, public education director at the National Center for Fair & Open Testing.


Sidebar: Tips for administrators


Concern with over-testing picked up steam around 2015, says Julie Rowland Woods, policy analyst at the Education Commission of the States. And since, a slow trickle of state policies have moved forward to mitigate it, she adds.

This past summer, Ohio eliminated state social studies exams for grades 4 and 6. And in June, New York shortened standardized testing in public schools by one day in reading and math, leaving two days for each assessment.

Many states are studying K12 assessments to determine exactly how many tests are mandated at the state and local levels, and the purpose of each exam. “Some states find that some are redundant or overlap,” Woods says.

In April, Maryland passed the “More Learning, Less Testing Act,” capping standardized testing at 2 percent, or about 25 hours, of overall classroom time per year. But it won’t have much of an immediate impact, says Andrew Smarick, president of the Maryland State Board of Education. Most districts were already testing under 25 hours per year.

The Maryland Education Association said the act will eliminate an estimated 730 hours of testing across 18 districts in 2018-19. Smarick, who objected to the law’s passage, says such a mandate could tie the hands of administrators who want to make assessment decisions based on student needs.

“Good superintendents, school boards and principals can solve most of the problem by reassessing their assessment systems and getting rid of old or duplicative tests,” Smarick says.

Empowering principals

Vancouver Public Schools in 2016 removed 105 district-required assessments, returning as many as 15 hours of instructional time back to classrooms in grades 3 through 8.  

“We were not focusing on eliminating a certain number of tests,” says Layne Manning, Vancouver’s curriculum director. Instead, the district determined which tests overlapped or were not informing instruction and replaced them with teacher-created assessments that better align with district standards and measure student growth.

Vancouver administrators play a larger role in analyzing assessment results—giving them data-driven flexibility to make decisions, says Travis Campbell, assistant superintendent and chief academic officer.


Alison DeNisco is a freelance writer in Kentucky.