Return to Headlines

BPS reduces district-required testing by half in lower-performing schools, sharing concerns raised over the amount of testing

BOSTON – Since the 2014-15 school year, the Boston Public Schools (BPS) has begun reducing the number of its required tests, lowering them by half for many of its students. The district’s efforts to reduce over-testing comes as a national study finds that the average student in large public schools spends up to 25 hours of instructional time on assessments that often produce overlapping results.

BPS is one of 66 school districts that participated in the study by the Council of Great City Schools, an organization made up of the nation’s largest urban public school systems. The Council closely examined the amount of instructional time devoted to standardized testing in what is considered to be one of the most comprehensive surveys ever undertaken to determine the true extent of mandatory and optional testing in the nation’s schools.

Findings from the report, titled: “Student Testing in America’s Great City Schools: An Inventory and Preliminary Analysis,” show that the average student in a large U.S. public school takes eight standardized tests per school year, consuming between 20 and 25 hours of instructional time on multiple assessments that frequently produce overlapping results.

“We are pleased with the Council of Great City Schools for undertaking such a comprehensive assessment,” said Boston School Committee Chairperson Michael O’Neill, who is also a member of the executive committee of the Council’s board of directors. “Even though Boston has already focused on eliminating redundant assessments, we look forward to reviewing the Council’s recommendations on best practices. I anticipate that Boston will have a seat at the table as part of the Council’s commission that will focus on next steps.”

While BPS continues to recognize that testing and formative-progress monitoring are strong tools to serve our students, the district shares concerns raised by families, educators, community partners, Boston School Committee members and the Boston Teachers Union over the increase in student assessments in recent years.

“I am pleased that Boston Public Schools participated with the Council of Great City Schools to tackle such an important issue,” said Dr. Tommy Chang, superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, which is a member of the Council of Great City Schools. “We will continue to review each and every assessment our students take. It’s crucial that we maintain our focus on effective teaching and learning practices. Formative assessments that encourage student reflection and inform teacher practice are critical. Ultimately, the goal is to ensure that all students achieve, and are prepared for college, career and life.”

On Saturday, President Obama called for limiting testing to 2% of classroom time. Since BPS has been proactive in reducing the amount of testing time over the past two years, the district is under this threshold.

In the lower-performing BPS schools, which are classified as “Level 3” and “Level 4” by the state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE), the number of district-required standardized tests has been cut in half for students in grades 3-10 -- from six exams in 2013-14 to three exams in 2015-16.

Beginning this school year, the highest-performing BPS schools, classified as “Level 1” and “Level 2” by DESE, have full discretion over how often district-provided standardized tests are used for students in grades 3-12. Students in grades K-2 in Level 1 and 2 schools are still required to undergo assessments using DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) three times per school year.

With cumulative national data in hand from to the Council of Great City Schools’ report, BPS will reassess where the district stands versus the national averages. BPS looks forward to reviewing the Council’s recommendations on best practices and collaborating with its commission on this topic.