October 26, 2015 Testimony from Erik Sivertson before the Senate Education Committee

My name is Erik Sivertson and I am a teacher in the Sauk-Rapids-Rice Public Schools.

I would like to preface our recommendations with two observations.

First, we consider this report to be a starting point.

If the Legislature is given the authority to repair the damage of the No Child Left Behind law, please listen to parents, community leaders and, yes, more educators.

Second, I want to make clear there is a role for statewide assessments that track our progress on achieving education equity for all students.

The question is how best to do so without creating obstacles to deeper learning and other unintended consequences of the system.

Here are just two ideas:

  • First, move to a system of grade-span testing in grades 5, 8 and high school. Minnesota already uses this approach for its science MCAs. Moving reading and math testing to a similar approach would reduce the number of hours students spend testing, the time computer labs are unavailable and may reduce resources spent on test prep – all without sacrificing attention to the very real opportunity gaps in Minnesota. It would also save a considerable amount of money.
  • Second, improve the quality of the MCAs. A move to fewer tests would allow for more investments in better tests. The current MCA format excludes the highest levels of learning and is limited to skills that can be assessed by multiple-choice. If the money spent on the tests administered in third, fourth, sixth and seventh grade were channeled into the remaining assessments, the quality of data produced by statewide tests would increase.

We could look to the current Advanced Placement tests as a model. They are written and graded by subject-matter experts and require students to write long responses that demonstrate critical thinking and memorized knowledge. That test also costs $92. For comparison, a 2012 report by the Brookings Institute estimated the cost of the typical state tests at $27 per student.

On behalf of myself and my co-authors, I would like to thank the committee for the opportunity to present our work.

You have heard some reasons why educators are so frustrated with the current system of standardized testing.

We have presented a quick critique of the system and some guiding principles for the way forward.

Finally, we’ve presented two ideas for fewer, better tests.

We note again this plan would preserve an annual check on our state’s progress toward education equity between students of different socioeconomic groups.

Thank you again for the opportunity to testify.

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