Obama Administration Admits There Is Too Much Testing from Diane Ravitch

The Obama administration acknowledged that students are spending too much time on testing and recommended that no more than 2% of classroom instructional time be devoted to testing.

Apparently the administration is reacting to bipartisan opposition and widespread parent protests against the diversion of time and billions of dollars to high-stakes testing. Public sentiment, as recorded in recent polls, opposes the overuse of standardized testing.

In addition, the Times reports, the administration was reacting to a new report from the Council of Great City Schools, which found that the current regime of testing has not improved achievement.

You might say that the Obama administration is lamenting the past 13 years of federal policy, which mandated annual testing, and made test scores the determinative factor in the evaluation of teachers, principals and schools.

In short, the Bush-Obama policies have been a disaster.

This is a classic case of too little, too late. Think of the thousands of teachers and principals who were unjustly fired and the thousands of pubic schools wrongly closed when they should have gotten help. This administration and the George W. Bush cannot be absolved for the damage they have done to American education by issuing a press release.

The story says:

“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.

“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. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who has announced that he will leave office in December. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking…”

“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.

“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…

“What happens if somebody puts a cap on testing, and to meet the cap ends up eliminating tests that could actually be helpful, or leaves the redundancy in the test and gets rid of a test that teachers can use to inform their instruction?” asked Michael Casserly, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools, an organization that represents about 70 large urban school districts.

“The administration’s move seemed a reckoning on a two-decade push that began during the Bush administration and intensified under President Obama. Programs with aspirational names — No Child Left Behind, Race to the Top — were responding to swelling agreement among Democrats and Republicans that higher expectations and accountability could lift the performance of American students, who chronically lag their peers in other countries on international measures, and could help close a chronic achievement gap between black and white students….

“But as the Obama administration pushed testing as an incentive for states to win more federal money in the Race for the Top program, it was bedeviled by an unlikely left-right alliance. 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.

“On the left, parents and unions objected to tying tests to teacher evaluations and said tests hamstrung educators’ creativity. They accused the companies writing the assessments of commercializing the fiercely local tradition of American schooling.

“As a new generation of tests tied to the Common Core was rolled out last spring, several states abandoned plans to use the tests, while others renounced the Common Core, or rebranded it as a new set of local standards. And some parents, mostly in suburban areas, had their children opt out of the tests.

“Mr. Duncan’s announcement — which was backed by his designated successor, John B. King Jr. — was prompted in part by the anticipation of a new survey from the Council of the Great City Schools, which set out to determine exactly how much testing is happening among its members.

“That survey, also released Saturday, found that students in the nation’s big-city schools will take, on average, about 112 mandatory standardized tests between prekindergarten and high school graduation — eight tests a year. In eighth grade, when tests fall most heavily, they consume an average of 20 to 25 hours, or 2.3 percent of school time. The totals did not include tests like Advanced Placement exams or the ACT.

“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.”

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