Obama administration announces new testing guidelines

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..

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.President Obama on Saturday called for limiting the amount of standardized educational testing to two percent of classroom time, addressing the growing concern across the county about an over emphasis on test taking.

“Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble,” President Obama says in a newly released video, signaling a shift away from the focus on standardized testing under the George W. 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. Saturday’s announcement was accompanied by the release of a survey by the Council of the Great City Schools, which found that students, on average, take about eight standardized tests per year. 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.

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. 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. At the center of the differences between the two bills is testing. “Testing participation and test output and how to handle all that is one of the key unresolved issues,” said Kati Haycock, who heads the Education Trust, a Washington, D.C.-based advocacy group that supports federally mandated standardized tests as a way to see how different groups of students are learning. “Any heat around the testing issue can ricochet.” The study looked at tests in 66 major city public school systems, including Los Angeles Unified. 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.

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. In 2014-15, LAUSD actually saw less testing than it previously had. “We were in a transition year,” said Cynthia Lim, the director of LAUSD’s Office of Data and Accountability, referring to the switch to the new Common Core exam called Smarter Balanced. 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.

For example, some eighth-grade students who take high-school-level coursework currently take both eighth-grade and high-school assessments, but the administration will allow them to opt out of the eighth-grade tests. 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 the federal government’s reach. Central to that debate is Common Core, a set of universal, college-readiness academic standards in reading and math developed by state education officials.

Also on Saturday, the Obama administration is releasing a “testing action plan” that lays out a pathway for fixing standardized testing in America. 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. 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.”

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