Missoulian: Tester again seeks to reduce the number of federal standardized tests in schools

Sen. Jon Tester called for a dramatic reduction in federally mandated standardized tests that he and supporters said eat up class time and waste tax dollars with little effect on student success.

Standing in the lobby of Sentinel High School in Missoula on Tuesday, the Democrat announced he would introduce the Student Testing Improvement and Accountability Act for a second time. The bill would cut the number of tests required by federal officials to just three: One in elementary school, another in middle school and a third in high school. Since the 2002 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act and subsequent iterations, schools must test students on federal standards in third through eighth and 11th grades.

“When you’re preoccupied with taking tests or teaching the tests, it takes away from the ability to teach kids to think critically and be successful in the world we live in today,” Tester said.

Identical measures have been introduced in Congress repeatedly since 2014 but none has advanced beyond the initial committee despite a growing national movement to reduce standardized testing.

Rep. Christopher Gibson, R-N.Y., sponsored the first version of the bill. Gibson, and later Tester, carried the measure in 2015. Earlier this year, Rep. Krysten Sinema, R-Ariz., introduced the bill to the House. Tester Spokesman Luke Jackson said Tester would likely introduce the measure in the Senate when he returns to Washington.

Tester said Tuesday he thinks the time is finally right to pass the legislation.

Missoula County Public Schools Superintendent Mark Thane agreed, noting that the Every Student Succeeds Act passed in late 2015 already has loosened some requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act. For instance, the power to sanction schools who perform poorly on standardized tests was shifted from federal to state officials.

Aspects of the legislation have yet to take effect as states develop plans and as new U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos reviews the guidelines developed by the previous administration.

“It held great promise to return local control of the educational system,” Thane said of the Every Student Succeeds Act. “Unfortunately, we find we continue to be burdened with repeated requests for standardized testing data.”