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"Educators on the Front Lines." (Photo: Milwaukee Teachers' Education Association (MTEA)/flickr/cc)

Will New Plan for Testing Caps Bring End to Disastrous Bush-Obama Education Policies?

Following 'testocracy uprising,' White House issues call for limits on time taking tests in classrooms

Andrea Germanos

The Obama administration on Saturday acknowledged what many parents and educators have seen as a problem for years—the excessive use of high-stakes testing in the nation's public schools.

"I believe that in moderation, smart, strategic tests can help us measure our kids' progress in school," President Obama said in a video posted to Facebook.

"But I also hear from parents who rightly worry about too much testing, and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that," adding, "Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble."

As the New York Times reports, the administration admitted

that the push [for standardized testing] 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.

As the announcement follows ongoing resistance, including protests and test opt-outs, to high-stakes testing, American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten reacted by saying that "it's a big deal that the president and the secretaries of education—both current and future—are saying that they get it and are pledging to address the fixation on testing in tangible ways."

"Parents, students and educators, your voice matters and you were heard," she said, and Seattle educator and outspoken education reform advocate Jesse Hagopian tweeted, "Our uprising against the testocracy is making big gains. To win the new Obama proposal we have keep up the struggle!"

Yet reform advocates were also quick to point out that the plan neither offers a true policy change nor makes up for damage already cased by this "testocracy." As Weingarten added in her statement, "the devil is in the details," and as education historian Diane Ravitch writes, the plan is really "too little too late." Ravitch continues:

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 Badass Teachers Association (BAT), an education activist organization, had a similar reaction to the plan, stating, "We are reluctantly pleased that the President and his administration are finally taking a stand, but sadly the devastation has already been done."

"The policies of [education secretary] Sec. Duncan and the USDOE have caused an immense amount of damage to our educational system, student morale, and teacher morale," stated BAT Executive Director Marla Kilfoyle I am very reluctant to be happy about this announcement and will watch closely as to what the President plans to do to fix the damage that has been done. Will he stand up to Corporate Education Reform? Will he end the test, blame, punish system for schools, students, and teachers? Will he return the elected school board? Will he end mass school closings?"

Peter Greene, who writes the Curmudgucation blog, puts it more blunty: "there's a problem with the action plan. The problem is that it sucks. More specifically, it doesn't represent any shift in administrative policy at all."

As for the 2 percent cap, he estimates that it still means "21.6 hours for testing. Thanks a lot."

Also among the problems Greene sees is that "they think their mistake was not telling states specifically enough what they were supposed to do. They provided states with flexibility when they should have provided hard and fast crystal clear commands directions for what they were supposed to do." He also points out that Duncan tells the Times that there's a "problem in implementation," not policy.

Echoing concerns mentioned by Ravitch and the BAT, Greene adds among the problems he finds is that the administration does not "back away from using test results to judge teachers, schools and students—the number one policy choice responsible for the emphasis on testing in schools (an emphasis the policy was always meant to create). To ignore that policy linkage and its effects is to declare yourself uninterested in really changing the culture of testing that is poisoning public education."

Also on Saturday, the Council of the Great City Schools released the results of its 2-year survey of 66 urban districts that reveal, as Valerie Strauss writes at her Washington Post blog, "what many students, parents and teachers have been screaming about for years: Kids take too many mandated standardized tests. What’s more, there is no evidence that adding testing time improves student achievement, it says."

"There are many reasons educators have found themselves saddled with the unwieldy, incoherent, at times illogical testing system that we have today and it will take considerable effort to recreate something more intelligent," stated (pdf) Michael Casserly, the Council's executive director.


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