Overtesting or Overcounting?

Commenting on the Center for American Progress’s (CAP’s) report, Testing Overload in America’s Schools,


…and the Education Writers’ Association coverage of it,


… Some testing opponents have always said there is overtesting, no matter how much there has been actually (just like they have always said there is a “growing backlash” against testing). Given limited time, I will examine only one of the claims made in the CAP report:

“… in the Jefferson County school district in Kentucky, which includes Louisville, students in grades 6-8 were tested approximately 20 times throughout the year. Sixteen of these tests were district level assessments.” (p.19)

A check of the Jefferson County school district web site –


reveals the following: there are no district-developed standardized tests – NONE. All systemwide tests are either state developed or national exams.

Moreover, regular students in grades 6 and 7 take only one test per year – ONE – the K-Prep, though it is a full-battery test (i.e., five core subjects) with only one subject tested per day. (No, each subtest does not take up a whole day; more likely each subtest takes 1-1.5 hours, but slower students are given all morning to finish while the other students study something else in a different room and the afternoon is used for instruction.) So, even if you (I would say, misleadingly) count each subtest as a whole test, the students in grades 6 and 7 take only 5 tests during the year, none of them district tests.

So, is the Center for American Progress lying to us? Depends on how you define it. There is other standardized testing in grades 6 and 7. There is, for example, the “Alternate K-Prep” for those with disabilities, but students without disabilities don’t take it and students with disabilities don’t take the regular K-Prep.

Also there is the “Make-up K-Prep” which is administered to the regular students who were sick during the regular K-Prep administration times. But, students who took the K-Prep during the regular administration do not take the Make-up K-Prep.

There are also the ACCESS for ELLs and Alternate ACCESS for ELLs tests administered in late January and February, but only to English Language Learners. ACCESS is used to help guide the language training and course placement of ELL (or, ESL) students. Only a Scrooge would begrudge the district using these tests as “overtesting.”

And, that’s it. To get to 20 tests a year, the CAP had to assume that each and every student took each and every subtest. They even had to assume that the students sick during the regular K-Prep administration were not sick, and that all students who took the regular K-Prep also took the Make-up K-Prep.

Counting tests in US education has been this way for at least a quarter-century. Those prone to do so goose the numbers any way they plausibly can. A test is given in grade 5 on Tuesday? Count all students in the school as being tested. A DIBELS test takes all of one minute to administer? Count a full class period as lost. A 3-hour ACT has five sub-sections? That counts as five tests. Only a small percentage of schools in the district are sampled to take the National Assessment of Educational Progress in one or two grades? Count all students in all grades in the district as being tested, and count all the subjects tested individually.

Critics have gotten away with this fibbing for so long it has become routine–the standard way to count the amount of testing. And, reporters tend to pass it along as fact.

Richard P. Phelps

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