Confirmed: Standardized testing has taken over our schools. But who’s to blame?

25 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Educators and parents expressed satisfaction with the Obama administration’s announcement Saturday that it would urge Congress to limit the amount of time students spend on testing to 2 percent of their total time in school..

The president said he’ll direct the Department of Education to work aggressively with states and local districts to make sure testing isn’t an obsession in schools. “Tests shouldn’t occupy too much classroom time or crowd out teaching and learning,” Obama said. “Tests should enhance teaching and learning.” “When I look back on the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test, what I remember is the way they taught me to believe in myself.” WASHINGTON — Addressing one of education’s most divisive issues, President Barack Obama on Saturday called for capping standardized testing at 2% of classroom time and said the government shares responsibility for turning tests into the be-all and end-all of American schools.WASHINGTON — Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.And though some said the administration’s suggestion did not go far enough to reduce the problem of overtesting, they welcomed the announcement as a positive step amid bipartisan backlash over standardized testing. “Everyone will be happy with this,” said Richard Stutman, president of the Boston Teachers Union, who said that it has long been known among teachers and parents that testing can take its toll on students. “My daughter is in a program for emotionally fragile students and I blame some of that on the high-stakes testing.

Students spend about 20 to 25 hours a school year taking standardized tests, according to a study of the nation’s 66 largest school districts that was released Saturday by the Council of the Great City Schools. Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests.

The move comes amid growing opposition from teachers and many parents who assert that high-stakes testing has classrooms focused on rote preparation and has squelched creativity. Stutman noted that while he is grateful for the decision to limit the amount of time spent on testing, he wonders whether the extensive amount of time teachers take to prepare students for testing will be taken into account. “The decisions made in regards to testing over the past decade have affected negatively students, parents, teachers, and schools, and I hope we’re realizing now that decisions like this should be vetted more thoroughly,” Stutman said. Rancor around standardized testing dominated headlines this year, with some parents protesting the number, duration and quality of tests students take. Mandatory testing as an effort to make teachers accountable and to help students improve and keep pace with their foreign counterparts dates back most recently to the Bush administration with “No Child Left Behind,” then the Obama administration’s “Race to the Top.” Support or opposition to the recent major initiative known as Common Core has essentially become a conservative litmus-test question for Republicans in the 2016 presidential race.

The vast majority of states agreed to the Common Core standards when they were released in 2010, with the backing of the National Governors Association. And even some proponents of newer, tougher tests said they appreciated the administration’s acknowledgment that it had helped create the problem, saying it did particular damage by encouraging states to evaluate teachers in part on test scores. However, there has since been a growing criticism among Republicans and Democrats that the federal government is now too involved in what should be state- and local-level educational decisions. Education reform groups as well as civil rights organizations have backed testing as a way to ensure that school districts provide better instruction to poor and minority students. But the administration’s so-called “testing action plan” — which guides school districts but does not have the force of law — also risks creating new uncertainty on the role of tests in America’s schools.

Many teachers have felt whiplash as they rushed to rewrite curriculum based on new standards and new assessments, only to have politicians in many states pull back because of political pressure. Some who agreed that testing has run rampant also urged the administration not to throw out the No. 2 pencils with the bath water, saying tests can be a powerful tool for schools to identify weaknesses and direct resources. The administration’s push for testing has alienated teacher unions, which are a major force in the Democratic Party, creating a breach that has proved troublesome for the party’s front-runner in the presidential race, Hillary Rodham Clinton. “Learning is about so much more than filling in the right bubble,” he said, calling for tests to be high-quality, a limited part of the curriculum and just one measurement of a student’s progress. But Obama directed the Education Department to make it easier for states to satisfy federal testing mandates and he urged states and districts to use factors beyond testing to assess student performance.

Also this week is what some policymakers believe to be the small window Congress has to reconcile two competing House and Senate bills to replace the No Child Left Behind Act before House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) leaves. Obama’s efforts should be welcome news for teachers and their powerful and largely pro-Democrat unions that say educators’ performance evaluations shouldn’t be tied to standardized test scores.

Among parents with children in public schools, 63 percent were opposed to linking teacher evaluations to their students’ test scores in a recent Gallup Poll. Such changes are also in discussion on Capitol Hill, where amendments to the law are under consideration that would preserve annual reading and math exams but end their status as the sole measure of how schools and teachers are performing. Critics of testing requirements welcomed the administration’s move but cautioned that much more needs to be done to overhaul educational assessments. “Now is the time for concrete steps to reverse counterproductive testing policies, not just more hollow rhetoric and creation of yet another study commission,” said Bob Schaeffer of FairTest, a group that advocates for better educational testing. “The fixation on high-stakes testing hasn’t moved the needle on student achievement,” Randi Weingarten, the group’s president, said in a statement. “Testing should help inform instruction, not drive instruction. They said the administration supports legislative proposals to cap testing time on a federal level, but wanted to offer states a model for how to cut down on testing absent congressional action. “There’s just a lot of testing going on, and it’s not always terribly useful,” Cecilia Munoz, the director of the White House’s Domestic Policy Council, said in an interview. “In the worst case, it can sap the joy and fun out of the classroom for students and for teachers.” Casserly said his group found examples of testing redundancy that could be cut to create more instructional time. Conservatives argued that the standards and tests were federal overreach — some called them a federal takeover — and called on parents and local school committees to resist what they called a “one size fits all” approach to teaching.

The Smarter Balanced exams were administered in grades 3-8 and 11, and each subject test clocked in at four hours. “We’re using this as an experimental year to see how the interim assessments go,” she said. “We have fewer tests than Florida. … I don’t know what the right mix is. The value of standardized tests taps into the national debate about the federal government’s role in local schools; both political parties generally support scaling back Washington’s reach. We’re still trying to figure out what our assessment plan and comprehensive view of assessment should be for the next school year.” “I think there is too much testing,” said Morgan Polikoff, a USC Rossier School of Education assistant professor.

But the council did not reveal whether that was too much or too little, as each student is different. “How much constitutes too much time is really difficult to answer,” said Michael Casserly, the council’s executive director. Her reluctance to map out a detailed policy agenda that would scale back testing requirements and slow the spread of charter schools was a major sticking point. The plan says that the only tests that should be given are those that are “worth taking,” meaning that they’re relevant; “high quality,” meaning that they require a student to use material in a complex manner; and “time-limited,” meaning that they take up no more than 2% of class time. The National Education Assn., the nation’s largest union — which also backed Obama’s plan — only endorsed Clinton after she upended her schedule to appear at its Washington headquarters to make a personal appeal to its board. The leaders of the union’s New Jersey and Massachusetts chapters had urged withholding an endorsement until candidates were more specific about education policy.

But along with the politically powerful teachers unions — a key source of boots on the ground in an election — Clinton has been grappling with equally influential forces on the other side of the debate. Casserly, the council’s executive director. “It’s often disjointed and disconnected and incoherent in many ways, and it results in a fair amount of redundancy and overlap.” The administration said it would issue “clear guidance” on testing by January. Some of the language of the announcement Saturday was general; it said, for example, that tests should be “worth taking” and “fair.” Like new guidance from many states, it stressed that academic standards and curriculum are to be fleshed out locally.

Previously, the feds have invited states to apply for waivers to get out of certain extra testing requirements, an offer California has put into place. “Duplicative, unnecessary or poor-quality, low-level tests subtract from learning time and undermine instruction,” King said. “There are too many tests that do not provide useful information.” He is also a longtime friend and supporter of the Clintons, a relationship that rank-and-file activists in the teachers union repeatedly point to in warning that Clinton is not a reliable ally.

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