The Two Percent Assessment Rule

Students not taking a formal assessment.


The Obama Administration swayed to the force of public opinion and has announced, according to the New York Times, a “cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests.” The immovable trek toward greater standardized testing began with the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB) and has been growing steadily ever since.

NCLB had its strengths. It certainly focused our educators on academic growth, at least the type that can be measured by tests. And for the first time, the assessment data from NCLB aligned tests was disaggregated into categories of students such as ELL or special education kiddos and required schools to not just meet “adequate yearly progress” overall but also AYP by these subgroups.

But the majority of parents and educators as well as politicians on both sides of the political spectrum felt that the insistence on high stake tests and the instructional time lost as a result, had gone too far. I’m not sure why it took the President and Secretary of Education Arne Duncan this many years to make a statement about over-testing.

How much is 2% of instructional time? In a typical elementary school’s day, we have a total of about 6 1/2 hours. Take an hour out of that day for lunch and recess and you’re left with 5 1/2 hours or about 330 minutes. Thus 2% of the day is about 7 minutes. Multiply that over a 180 day school year, and we have 21 hours of testing in a year.

Now the question is: what type of testing qualifies for the 2%? In a typical elementary setting, you might take three computer adaptive tests per year in literacy and numeracy (6 hours) plus the Smarter Balanced or PARCC State/Common Core assessment (7 hours). Add in curriculum based measures such as DIBELS or AIMSweb, One could also add in NEAP, the ACT, or the SAT, or even teacher designed tests and quizzes.

While it appears arbitrary to throw out “2%” as a guideline, the larger question is is the juice worth the squeeze? That is, given all of the assessment that takes time away from instruction…what’s left for instruction? Most formative assessment overlaps within instruction and often occurs without the student knowing he is being assessed.

I have no “a-ha’s” to share, only an essential question: what is the assessment sweet spot? Thoughts?

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