RACINE — The Racine Education Association is renewing its request for a testing audit.
Submitted in a letter to the Racine Unified School District Board of Education on Monday, the request is essentially identical to the one given to the board in November, and asks for an audit that should include, among other things, an inventory of all standardized tests, the purpose of the tests, time spent taking each test, and time spent on test preparation.
The District responded to the REA’s November letter, which it saw as an open records request, by creating a pair of documents that sought to answer the union’s questions, Unified Spokesman Stacy Tapp said Tuesday.
Undergoing a true audit of the district’s testing practices, which would be a far more lengthy effort, is a decision that would be up to the School Board, Tapp said.
“They have submitted this to the Board, so if the Board decides this is what we want the district to do, the Board can direct the superintendent to do that,” she said, noting that the district is presently working to address concerns by creating an assessment committee.
The district’s executive director of assessment, Jacquelyn Moga, has contacted teachers who have expressed frustration to see if they want to join the committee, Tapp said.
At issue is not necessarily the tests themselves — though teachers have lamented the way some exams are administrated — but the sheer number of standardized tests students are required to take and how time devoted to taking and preparing for such tests eats away at actual instruction.
Although the bulk of the standardized tests students take each year have state and federal requirements, the volume of assessments Unified requires of elementary and middle school students goes beyond what is mandated.
The added district-required testing comes in the form of two more math and English screenings — Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) assessments — for students in kindergarten through second grade, and three more math and English screenings for students in grades 3-8.
The state and federal government may not officially require MAP testing, but he District notes that the federal Every Student Succeeds Act or ESSA does require that the district monitor student progress and Unified has selected MAP tests for that purpose.
The district used to only administer the MAP test twice a year. It started requiring a third session during the 2014-2015 school year, to give teachers better benchmarks of how they and their students are doing, Moga said in December.
But the REA believes the added testing is doing more harm than good.
“Students take MAP in fall, winter, and spring, showing higher proficiency on their winter MAP because no other test is going on. By the time spring MAP and the Forward Exam come around students are tested out,” Theresa Jakala, a literacy teacher at Gilmore Middle School, 2330 Northwestern Ave., told the Board on Monday. “The district needs to consider eliminating spring MAP assessments to give students a mental break for the Forward Exam.”
REA president Angelina Cruz said Tuesday that she would like to see the Board direct the District to not only work with teachers on testing issues, but show that meaningful work is actually being done.
“Beyond the social and emotional damage high-stakes standardized tests have on children, there is also a definite fiscal impact — whether it be the costs of the tests themselves, time lost on teaching and learning, use of technology, etc. — that should be considered as well,” Cruz said.
Asked if the Board might look into the issue, RUSD Board President Robert Wittke, Jr. said Tuesday that the board “doesn’t have a formal opinion to express.”
He encouraged residents to take to a look at information about testing that is available on the district’s website.
This story has been updated to include more background information about how Unified applies the requirements of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act.