A new national survey of teachers finds their views on the amount of time they spend preparing students for school, district and state tests depend on several factors, including the autonomy they have and how well the tests align to their curriculum.
Titled “The Best of Time or the Worst of Time? What Teachers Think About Test Preparation,” the report was recently released by the national nonprofit Teach Plus. The group has more than 22,000 educator
s members interested in district, state and national policy issues. The research included focus groups and surveys with teachers about their test preparation, followed by an in-depth look at 17 different types of activities most commonly used.
“This study clearly demonstrates that, far from a ‘drill and kill’ block of time, test preparation is a set of multifaceted strategies some of which teachers find valuable and some of which they do not,” said Dr. Celine Coggins, CEO of Teach Plus, in a prepared statement. “Rather than labeling all test preparation a waste of time, we should listen to teachers and only keep activities they see as most appropriate and valuable to improve student learning.”
The survey of 400 teachers found that 57 percent thought they spent “too much time” on test prep, while 43 percent said test prep time was “about right” or “too little.” Forty-five percent of teachers who thought test prep time was appropriate said their state test was well-aligned to the curriculum, compared to 28 percent who said the test did not match what they were teaching students. However, even the 28 percent who said the curriculum was not well-aligned felt it was important to prep students well for end-of-year tests.
Those who believed test prep time was about right spent half of it on activities they chose, while those who thought they spent too much time on test prep got to choose their own test prep activities about 31 percent of the time.
About 89 percent of teachers who believed they spent an appropriate amount of time on test prep felt it was a “very good” or “good” use of time, while 68 percent of those who thought test prep took too much time said the activities were a “very good” or “good” use of time. Even teachers who thought they spent too much time on test prep felt that curriculum-related activities were valuable because they reinforced Common Core standards. Activities that motivated students or helped them develop skills were also viewed as being valuable, despite the extra time spent on them.
The report recommended that: policy makers ensure curriculum and assessments are aligned at state, district and local levels; districts survey teachers on test prep activities and keep those that are highly rated, while dropping those that aren’t; districts expand access to technology so students can develop skills before taking tests and teachers can support them; and districts only use interim tests aimed at predicting performance on end-of-the-year tests, if teachers believe they are high-quality.
“How the teachers measured time came down to three important ‘A’s’: alignment, autonomy, and activities,” Coggins said in the report. “The teachers in our study confirmed what we at Teach Plus have learned from previous research and from speaking with thousands of teachers over the past five years: that alignment between assessments and curriculum, access to highly valued activities, and the autonomy to choose what’s right for students all contribute to how teachers perceive the value of activities they use to prepare their students for tests, and are all factors that can be changed to reduce wasted time and increase valued instructional time.”