Obama encourages limits on standardized student tests

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..

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.”

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.“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. 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.

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. 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. 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.

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. 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.

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.

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. 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. 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. 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.

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 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.

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 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. There was no evidence, the study found, that more time spent on tests improved academic performance, at least as measured by the National Assessment of Educational Progress, a longstanding test sometimes referred to as the nation’s report card. “Because so many actors are adopting and requiring tests, you often find a whole portfolio of tests not being very strategic,” said Mr.

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. 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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