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Marketplace Morning Report

Putting kids to the test a little less

Adriene Hill Oct 26, 2015
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In a development that will surely be music to the ears of millions of schoolchildren, the White House wants them to spend less time taking tests. 

President Obama said this weekend he thinks no more than 2 percent of classroom time ought to be spent on testing, and that test results should play a smaller role in how we judge education overall. 

But it’s not like the White House can just wave a magic wand to make that happen.

The average kids in one of our schools will take about 112 standardized tests between pre-K to the time they graduate from high school,” said Mike Casserly, executive director of Council of the Great City Schools. His organization just issued a report on student testing.

And that 112 doesn’t include optional tests, school-developed tests, sample tests, Advanced Placement tests.

“The country spends about $2.5 billion on elementary and secondary classroom assessments a year,” said Casserly.

Much of this goes to big testing companies, like Educational Testing Service and Pearson Education.

It sounds like a lot, until you consider that the U.S. spends more than $600 billion a year on public education.

No one thinks the president’s call to cut testing is going to make a big dent. Casserly said eighth graders,w ho are typically the most-tested group, spend only 2.3 percent of their time on mandatory tests.

But if test scores do become less essential to how education is judged, that could have an economic impact on some school funding, some teacher salaries and maybe your personal wealth.

“A lot of this is a public shaming mechanism,” said Matthew Chingos, a fellow at the Urban Institute.

Test scores are published in the newspaper or online and “parents use that information when they make decision about where to send their kids to school. It gets reflected in real estate prices.” It’s often much more expensive to live near a high-scoring school than a low-scoring one.

But Chingos thinks limits on school testing are more about political posturing than meaningful change.

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