How Should Educators Respond to the Obama Administration’s Concession on Test …

26 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Obama Calls For Limits On Standardized Tests In Schools.

WASHINGTON — Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in American public schools, President Barack Obama’s administration declared over the weekend 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. President Barack Obama called for limiting the amount of time students are taking standardized tests and unveiled new guidelines that his administration would use to help schools across to administer more meaningful exams on Saturday.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.” Specifically, the administration on Saturday called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 per cent of classroom instruction time taking tests. The president’s remarks in an official Facebook video come amid growing debate over the implementation of standardized testing and a bipartisan effort in Congress to replace the No Child Left Behind Act.

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. And even some proponents of newer, tougher tests said they appreciated the administration’s acknowledgment that it had helped create the problem, saying it had done particular damage by encouraging states to evaluate teachers in part on test scores. The president’s announcement comes just as the Council of the Great City Schools released a report about testing assessment in the country’s largest urban school districts. And from the 2016 presidential campaign, Democratic contender Hillary Rodham Clinton embraced the principles laid out by Obama. “We should be ruthless in looking at tests and eliminating them if they do not actually help us move our kids forward,” she said in a statement. 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 “testing action plan” — which guides school districts but does not have the force of law — also risks creating fresh uncertainty on the role of tests in America’s schools. The report found that students in big-city schools will take, on average, about 112 mandatory standardized tests between pre-kindergarten and high school graduation — eight tests a year. 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 to recognise that tests can be a powerful tool for schools to identify weaknesses and direct resources.

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. 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.

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. States, led by the National Governors Association and advised by local educators, created the so-called Common Core standards, which outlined the skills students should have upon graduation, and signed on to tests tied to those standards. 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 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.

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. But it also said that tests should be “just one of multiple measures” of student achievement, and that “no single assessment should ever be the sole factor in making an educational decision about a student, an educator or a school”. Still, it emphasised that the administration was not backing away entirely from tests: The announcement said tests should cover “the full range of relevant state standards” and elicit “complex student demonstrations or applications of knowledge and skills”.

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. 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.

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. 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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