Should Schools Align Calendar to State Testing Schedule?

As a consummate planner, I visited our son’s soon-to-be first-grade public school district website to see what the 2013-14 school calendar would be. Much to my surprise, the school calendar had shifted to align to the state testing schedule.

In California, the bulk of the state testing occurs during the latter part of April into the better part of May. So the new 2017-18 start date is in the middle of August and the end date is at the end of May. The number of school days remains the same, but the entire calendar has shifted about two weeks earlier.

I am thrilled. The reality is, once state testing is over, everyone, whether intentional or not, slows down. I hate to admit it, but it’s in part because that’s human nature. In teaching, there is something that’s called a scope a sequence. That is, what is going to be taught over the course of the year (scope) and in what order it will be taught (sequence).

Usually, a state’s department of education will release test questions from previous years’ standardized tests. Teachers, parents, students, and administrators can use these are prep for students–not just for content but for teaching test-taking strategies. Also, I’d be lying if I said that administrators don’t look at what core standards seem to be most prevalent in previous tests.

There’s no way that every single standard that is listed for each subject area can be covered in the scope of a school year. There just aren’t enough days or hours of school. So many schools hit on “power standards” or “core standards”. These are the heavy hitters and the ones that are usually necessary to master in order to build future knowledge.

When teachers or curriculum teams sit down to build their scope and sequence, it is usually scheduled around the target date–the state testing period. Typically, that has been from late August/early September when school begins until mid to the end of May when state testing ends. Mind you, school, however, doesn’t officially end until about two to four weeks after that. That time frame is commonly referred to as “dead or lost time”. I’ve never liked that time of the year–neither as a teacher nor as an administrator. It seemed like lost time.

For elementary and middle school students, state testing can be likened to high school or college finals. They know that in some ways state testing is the “end goal” so they may have an inclination to shut down. I think teachers to do their best to make that time meaningful and solid instructional time, especially going back to teach to some of the standards that they didn’t cover in time for the state testing, but sometimes students’, especially middle school students, minds wander elsewhere. It takes skillful motivation of the students for the final 2-4 weeks of school. That’s for sure!

While in some ways, I am not thrilled about state standardized testing being such a big deal, the reality is, it’s not going anywhere so long as we are enrolled in a public school.

So it makes complete sense to me to shift the school year to start and end earlier, and I’m happy about it. There is far less lost meaningful instructional time because school will end soon after state testing is completed. It will certainly be a big change for many families who are used to vacationing in the latter part of August, but on the positive front, they can start vacationing right at the start of June when it’s not as hot (yet) in certain part of the country and fewer people are enjoying their summer vacation. And as a complete aside, I’m a big fan of year-round calendars, too, which I’ll write about in a future post.

Has your child’s school made any changes to the school calendar due to state testing? What are your thoughts about it.