As spring testing season comes to an end, many teachers are scrambling to get back on track with the curriculum they aim to finish before the end of the 180-day school year. By the beginning of May, it’s not unusual for students to be weeks behind schedule. Required state and national tests, increasing behavior issues, and lack of careful schoolwide planning are taking a toll on instructional time.

According to a 2012 survey released by Scholastic and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, teachers are feeling the time-crunch. In the report, entitled Primary Sources: America’s Teachers on the Teaching Profession, 72 percent of educators believe that extending the school year would have a moderate to very strong impact on student achievement.

Why the need for more school days? In part, because of the time lost to standardized tests. “The enormous amount of time we spend preparing for tests wastes time we could be spending on really learning,” explained one elementary teacher interviewed. Only about a quarter of teachers believe that standardized tests are an accurate reflection of student achievement, and yet they take away hundreds of classroom hours.

Here’s one Texas elementary teacher’s accounting of instructional time lost: “When our entire PreK–5 school goes into test mode, there is no instruction at all for six straight days. We also shut down for three other days to ‘practice’ testing procedures. Most teachers in grades three through five spend hours every day from Feb 1 through April 30 preparing for the test. We also spend two days each quarter on district testing. It’s too much.”  Even without including test prep hours, this adds up to 21 days per year—over a month of school—spent on standardized testing.

According to Primary Sources 2012, time spent on behavior management and discipline is up. Overall, six in ten teachers report they have more students with behavioral issues that interfere with teaching than they did five years ago.  “The time it takes to referee fights and solve bullying issues takes away from academic instruction and keeps students from achieving as much as they could,” said one elementary teacher. Educators report spending triple the amount of time they thought was appropriate on discipline and behavior issues.

What’s the answer? Whether its more days in the school year or better use of the time they have, teachers are calling for more learning time for children. 

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About Primary Sources
Now in its fourth year, Primary Sources surveyed 10,000 educators from all 50 states to learn firsthand how teachers perceive their classrooms, their profession, and the future of education. To download the complete Primary Sources report or take the survey, visit the Primary Sources website.