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Originally published May 25, 2013 at 4:05 PM | Page modified May 25, 2013 at 6:29 PM

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Guest: Less assessment testing, more learning for students

Assessments are gobbling our students’ learning time, writes guest columnist Tamra Jackson.

Special to The Times

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TO improve education in Washington State, we need to re-evaluate the number of required assessments, which reduce the time students have access to quality instruction.

As educators, we have so much to cover academically in the small span of nine months. Society and our need for knowledge and skills has advanced dramatically in the past decade. Our students need to develop greater critical-thinking skills, know mathematics and science in greater depth, and become effective and articulate communicators in a technology dominated world.

Teachers are willingly changing with the times and are adapting to these essential academic needs, but they are frequently expected to accomplish all of this in much less than the required 180 days.

Without question, assessments are important for accountability, to monitor progress and to set goals, but when do assessments go beyond an effective, reliable tool and become a hindrance to the educational process and the irreplaceable teacher-student interaction?

Washington state students begin taking tests in kindergarten. The number of assessments and the time devoted to them only increases as students move through school. In my high school alone, students lose more than 25 days of class time to one state assessment or another.

Students are tested using the Washington English Language Proficiency Assessment, end-of-course exams in biology, algebra I and II and geometry, Measures of Academic Progress (MAP), High School Proficiency Exam in reading and writing, and the Collections-of-Evidence for some students in reading, writing and math.

These 25-plus days of assessments do not include the Advanced Placement Exams, college-placement exams, the PSAT or the ASVAB. The Common Core Smarter Balanced Assessments are coming in the not-too-distant future.

Adding more days to the calendar is not the solution to the assessment dilemma. The benefits and the true need for some of these assessments need to be examined and put into perspective. Seattle Schools recently made the MAP assessment optional after teachers boycotted the assessment.

Students need more rigorous course work and challenging opportunities while in high school, and examples include college-in-the-high-school, Advanced Placement courses and International Baccalaureate courses.

These courses should be available to all students through open-enrollment policies where there are no gatekeepers limiting access to students desiring to take challenging courses and striving to work hard. Students taking challenging courses need all of the daily contact time available with their instructors, and often, the time lost to time-consuming assessments could be better used in instruction and mentoring.

Tamra L. Jackson is principal of Bridgeport High School in Bridgeport, Wash.

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