November 2015

Obama Administration Calls for Less Testing in Schools

A real change or more of the same?

Teachers have been calling attention to the problem of overtesting and excessive test prep in public schools for years, and with reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), educators are increasing advocacy and pressuring legislators to limit standardized tests and the high-stakes that too often accompany these tests.

While Congress continues to meet to negotiate reauthorization measures, the Obama administration took action of its own last month by releasing a plan to reduce testing. The plan calls for no more than two percent of classroom instruction time should be spent on tests.

While the plan attempts to addresses federal problems according to public education advocate and former U.S. Assistant Secretary of Education Diane Ravitch, the amount of testing is still too high.

"If students across the nation attend school 180 days (which is standard), and they spend approximately 5 of approximately 6 hours each of these 180 days in instruction (e.g., not including lunch), this would mean that students spend approximately 900 educative hours in school every year (i.e., 180 days x 5 hours/day). If we take 2% of 900, that yields an approximate number of actual testing hours (as "recommended" and possibly soon to be mandated by the feds, pending a legislative act of congress) equal to 18 hours per academic year. "Assess" for yourself whether you think that amount of testing time (i.e., 18 hours of just test taking per student across all public schools) is to reduce the nation's current over-emphasis on testing, especially given this does not include the time it takes for what the feds also define as high-quality "test preparation strategies," either."

David Hursh,a Professor at the University of Rochester, summarized the proposal to reform testing and reduce the burden on students and teachers. In a blog post, Obama's Testing Action Plan: A real change or more of the same? He wrote:

On October 24, 2015, the U.S. Department of Education released their Testing Action Plan as a response to the increasing concern of parents, teachers, and students that standardized testing is, in their words, "unnecessary," consumes "too much instructional time" and creates "undue stress for educators and students." On first reading, Obama and Duncan seem to be saying that they want to decrease both the amount to time spent on testing and the high-stakes nature of tests in evaluating students, teachers, and schools. However, a closer reading suggests that they are only calling for the federal government to provide " clear assistance...for how to thoughtfully approach testing and assessment," that is, more federal control. So, the actual goal is more of the same, implemented more carefully, so as to blunt resistance.

Teachers want assessments that give them timely feedback and allow them to improve instruction for students. Educators must be at the forefront of solutions that will close the opportunity gap for students and promote success for all children, regardless of their zip code.


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