US president Barack Obama said today (Oct. 24) that his administration is moving to reduce the amount of time public schools spend administering standardized tests, including annual exams linked to the controversial “Common Core” mandates for measuring math and reading skills.
In an announcement today, via Facebook, Obama said he wants to prevent public school students from spending more than 2% of their total classroom hours on testing. The proposal comes at the same time as a new study of the nation’s 66 largest school districts that found that students are spending between 20 and 25 hours a year taking tests.
American families and public school teachers have been increasingly put-upon by government-mandated annual testing schemes since the advent of No Child Left Behind, the 2002 law that tied public school funding to student performance on standardized math and reading exams. The Obama administration has been criticized for upping the stakes of these exams by requiring states to evaluate teachers based on their students’ test scores. As a result, critics say, teachers are forced to spend valuable classroom time “teaching to the test” and administering practice exams instead of cultivating true learning experiences.
Many studies during the past decade have attempted to quantify how much time and energy schools spend on standardized testing, and whether such efforts contribute positively to student learning or other measures of achievement. In many cases the conclusion is along these lines: A lot of time and effort—likely too much—is being spent on testing, and it’s not helping students absorb more information or become more competitive with peers in other countries.
Now, under mounting opposition to the federal testing policies, the Obama administration can’t do much besides issue revised guidelines for school districts and “call on Congress” to make changes. The president and his cabinet acknowledge that they’ve contributed to the problem of over-testing; as education secretary Arne Duncan told the New York Times, “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”
To many, this is a step in the right direction; to some, it’s coming too late.