Jesusa López, Shalim Sanchez
How much time do you spend on test prep?
A CTA online survey confirms what most teachers already know: Teachers spend a huge amount of time of time on test preparation. Of those who answered the survey, nearly 70 percent said they spend at least one-fifth of their time preparing students for testing — and many said they spend much more.
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Nearly 200 teachers took the survey on how much time they spend on test prep for the STAR test, which includes the California Standards Tests (CSTs), as well as the California High School Exit Exam. Of the 188 respondents, 53 percent taught elementary school, 26 percent taught middle school, and nearly 20 percent taught high school. Ninety-one percent taught general education students.
Sixty-eight percent of survey respondents reported spending at least 20 to 30 percent of their time on test prep, which includes drills, practice tests and going over test-taking strategies on standardized tests. However, most of those surveyed said they spend more time on test prep. In a survey breakdown:
- 22 percent reported spending 20 to 30 percent of their time on test prep.
- 12 percent spend 30 to 40 percent of their time on test prep.
- 9 percent spend 40 to 50 percent of their time on test prep.
- 6 percent spend 50 to 60 percent of their time on test prep.
- 19 percent reported spending more than 60 percent of their time on test prep.
Forty percent of respondents said they spend 20 percent or more of their time just on teaching test-taking strategies, which include how to “guess” the right answer, eliminate wrong answers or recognize what type of response a test question should elicit, such as positive or negative. Teachers said this helps students learn how to guess the right answers if they don’t know the actual answers.
We were required to test in three-week-long, all-morning "practice" tests made from released questions, and then use time to go over our answers. That is three weeks of instructional time in reading and math. Then we were issued Standards Plus, in math and reading, at least 30 minutes a day from math and reading time, or a fourth of the yearlong minutes. Add in DIBELS testing and the required testing per story in unit tests in math, and I believe you would see that a half of the year’s instructional time in math and reading was not teaching the material but testing the material. I suppose the idea is they learn to take the test by taking the test. —Elementary school teacher
Other test prep strategies include teaching students to rephrase questions, select the “best possibilities,” and look out for trick questions designed to mislead them. One teacher tells students her role is helping them “beat” the test. Additional strategies include doing “breathing exercises” to help students focus; training students to read the entire test first and then go back and answer the questions they know; and practicing “endurance” reading so they have enough stamina on test day.
I spend lots of time teaching about how to read questions to understand what they are asking. I also give tests which require longer periods of concentration and patience to get through because my students often shut down when they see the length of the STAR test. —First-grade teacher
The majority of those who answered the survey believe too much valuable “learning time” is wasted on test prep, but they have no choice if they want students to score well. Many voiced concern that students are less engaged and are bored due to so much emphasis on test prep — and that students often don’t take standardized tests seriously or perform their best, since classroom grades are not based upon test scores.
Yes. It's frightening that your worth as an educator could be judged by children and adolescents. Some kids just get tired or don't care about the tests. —Third-grade teacher
Some said that after testing, students felt like they had “already learned” everything even though school had not ended. They said that because schools are sacrificing art, music, social studies and science to “teach to the test,” students are not getting a well-rounded education and have “gaps” in their education — especially in geography and science. Many lamented that students are learning how to answer questions correctly and fill in the bubbles instead of becoming independent critical thinkers who could apply that knowledge to real-life situations. Some said that there was so much emphasis on test prep that teachers could not take advantage of “teachable moments” because they had to stay on the pacing guide.
Students are missing out on time to explore learning in both the hands-on and research modes. Student miss out on the time it takes to relate what they are learning to the world around them and their lives. Students are missing out on their childhood. —High school teacher
Respondents said that testing did not always correlate with improvement seen in the students through their work in the classroom or homework, and did not measure student growth from one year to the next. They said multiple measures would provide a much better indicator of what students really know — and don’t know — than one test on one day.
In my opinion, test prep is not all negative, since it helps me focus on what I need to emphasize in my teaching. However, due to time constraints, test prep takes the time of fun, engaging learning activities. Students are many times bored and overwhelmed with so much practice. Many end up losing all interest in learning. —High school teacher
Most of those surveyed said they believed an overemphasis on testing causes good teachers to leave the profession. One commented, “Duh, of course.” Another said, “Yes, let me name them,” and provided a long list of individuals by name who had left her district for that very reason.
I would like to administer tests that I think are relevant to my students. I would like to use those scores to drive my instruction. I do not want the comparisons. If administrators, parents, or the district have any inclination that I am not teaching right, I would like them to pop into my class anytime to observe me in action. They would find that I am a creative, innovative, fun, and standards-based teacher. I am a teacher and not a standardized test administrator. —Middle school teacher