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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

July 1, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Is test-prep teaching? It takes up 18 percent of school time

Donna Grethen / Op Art

Donna Grethen / Op Art

As lawmakers in Olympia prepare to grapple with court-ordered increases in school funding, it might help to have a better idea of the various tasks a teacher is expected to complete in a day.

So went the thinking behind a year-long study of 693 Washington educators, which is scheduled for release on Tuesday. It is believed to be the most comprehensive effort undertaken — by any state — to assess how much of a teacher’s time is devoted to instruction, and how much to paperwork, meetings and the like.

Drum roll, please: In Washington, about 73 percent of the school day — or four and three-quarter hours when students are present — is spent teaching. (That includes preparing for state tests.) The remaining 27 percent is devoted to parent conferences, professional development, lesson preparation and field trips, according to the study.

Educators and legislators may debate whether test-prep is, in fact, instruction. But either way, it accounts for nearly 18 percent of a teacher’s time, the data show.

This pattern held true for teachers across the spectrum, from elementary through high school.

John McCoy, D-Tulalip, who commissioned the $25,000 report, said it confirmed his impression that teachers are not being given enough time to focus on instruction. Between test-prep (which he does not count as teaching) and various other duties, nearly half of every day is spent on tasks other than educating students, he observed.

“That’s higher than I thought, but it doesn’t surprise me,” McCoy said. “There are legislators on both sides of the aisle who want to add even more non-teaching duties, and that was my frustration. I just wanted to say stop! We’re not giving them the time to teach.”

The study, which was done by Central Washington University, surveyed teachers from 159 school districts, using a combination of methods to ensure the accuracy of results. But it does not show how teachers’ schedules here compare to those in other states.

At the end of the study period researchers also interviewed teachers, who reported that:

  • their roles are morphing away from teaching as a primary focus and toward preparing students for state tests.
  • the need to communicate with parents is growing exponentially, further cutting into teachers’ time during and after school.
  • district, state and federal requirements come and go before their effectiveness can be measured.

“It’s a cause to pause and really look at what we’re doing to the K-12 system,” said McCoy, who believes most assessment tests are a waste of time. “Kids want more applied work. They want to explore. They want to look at businesses and see what kinds of careers they might go into. That’s what I hear, no matter where I go in the state.”

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