Nevada students spend too much time taking standardized tests, lawmakers were told on Friday as they debated a proposal to impose limits on such tests.
Nevada school children shouldn't have to face more than about two standardized tests per year, Sen. Bob Beers, R-Las Vegas, told the Senate Human Resources and Education committee. He asked them to pass SB110, his proposal to allow Nevada schools to administer only one standardized test per year, in addition to the high school proficiency exam, and tests required by No Child Left Behind or other federal laws.
"I'm not seeking to do away with tests, much to my sixth-grader's chagrin," said Beers. "All I know is our kids are being subject to too much standardized testing."
Lynne Warne, a lobbyist for the Nevada State Educational Association, said that some tests are redundant, and agreed that lawmakers should set limits on the time students spend taking tests.
Warne, a former Washoe County teacher, said that tests mandated in her district take about a month of class time out of the school year. She also advocated lengthening the school year to make up for days spent testing.
"We've never shied away from accountability or assessments," said Warne. "What we are very concerned about, though, is the loss of instructional time."
Dotty Merrill, a lobbyist for the Nevada Association of School Boards, disagreed, saying that decisions about testing should be left up to school districts.
Sen. Steven Horsford, D-North Las Vegas, agreed, saying districts with different demographics should be allowed to mandate different amounts of testing. A longer school year should be considered as well, he added.
"I just think we need to be careful about mandating or taking away local discretion," said Horsford. "I completely agree we're moving to a high-stakes testing approach. But that's something the federal government mandated."
Tests are good tools for evaluating a school, but schoolwork and homework should be used to evaluate individual students, not standardized tests, said Sen. Joe Heck, R-Henderson. A longer school year was a good idea, but an expensive one, he added.
"I agree about lack of instructional time," said Heck. "But the cost-benefit ratio of extending the school year, versus eliminating some tests, really needs to be weighed."
The committee also considered another bill by Beers, SB97, which would limit the salaries of school district administrators to no more than 11Ú2 times the salary of the district's highest paid principal. Currently, that would affect the salaries of two state employees, limiting the salary of the Clark County schools superintendent to about $166,000, and pay of the Washoe County superintendent to about $158,000.
Lobbyists for those two districts spoke out against the bill, saying it limits their ability to offer competitive salaries in the national labor market for school chiefs.
Craig Kadlub, a lobbyist for Clark County School District, said that most school districts of Clark County's size offer salaries of more than $200,000. Many school districts offer salaries and benefits that get up to $400,000 or higher, he said.
"With all the talk of empowerment and site-based management, this is a good example of a decision that is best left at the local level," he said. "The marketplace isn't Nevada. The marketplace is the nation."
The bill is sound policy that would prevent overly high salaries in the future, Beers said. He called the high salaries cited by Kadlub "almost criminal" examples of taking resources away from students.
"I believe that education is benefiting by returning the focus to the school, and pushing resources into the school," said Beers. "And this legislation accomplishes a little bit of both."
Lobbyists representing the state's school boards and school administrators spoke against the bill, calling it "micromanagement" and an unnecessary intrusion into local matters.