Sent to the Washington Post, March 28, 2011
"Obama says standardized tests too punitive" (3/28/11) is baffling.
The president is calling for less standardized testing and less teaching to the test while his Department of Education is launching the most extensive standardized testing program ever seen in American education, one that goes far beyond the president's reasonable suggestion of a standardized test to be given every few years.
It is widely agreed that No Child Left Behind put too much emphasis on testing, but the new plan goes far beyond NCLB.
NCLB demands tests in reading and math. The Department of Education's Blueprint encourages testing in all subjects.
NCLB requires one test at the end of the year. The new plan includes "interim tests" to be given several times during the year, and because the Blueprint endorses measuring improvement, we could have tests given in the fall and spring.
In addition, all tests will be closely linked to national standards, which promises to result in more teaching to the test than ever.
There is no evidence that this approach has ever worked and plenty of reason to believe it will result in the kind of punitive "pressure-packed atmosphere" the president wants to avoid.
Secretary of Education Duncan should listen to President Obama.
OBAMA SAYS TOO MUCH TESTING MAKES EDUCATION BORING
Associated Press -- March 28, 2011
By Erica Werner
Washington -- President Barack Obama said Monday that students should take fewer standardized tests and school performance should be measured in other ways than just exam results. Too much testing makes education boring for kids, he said.
"Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools," the president told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C.
Obama, who is pushing a rewrite of the nation's education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools, said policymakers should find a test that "everybody agrees makes sense" and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.
At the same time, Obama said, schools should be judged on criteria other than student test performance, including attendance rate.
"One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you're not learning about the world, you're not learning about different cultures, you're not learning about science, you're not learning about math," the president said. "All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that's not going to make education interesting."
"And young people do well in stuff that they're interested in," Obama said. "They're not going to do as well if it's boring."
The president endorsed the occasional administering of standardized tests to determine a "baseline" of student ability. He said his daughters Sasha, 9, and Malia, 12, recently took a standardized test that didn't require advance preparation. Instead, he said, it was just used as a tool to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses, and show areas where they could use more emphasis from teachers. The girls attend the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington.
Obama, who has been pushing his education agenda all month, has expressed concern that too many schools will be unable to meet annual proficiency standards under the No Child Left Behind law this year. The standards are aimed at getting 100 percent of students proficient in math, reading and science by 2014, a goal now widely seen as unrealistic.
The Obama administration has proposed replacing those standards with a less prescriptive requirement that by 2020 all students graduating from high school should be ready for college or a career.
Obama wants Congress to send him a rewrite of the 2001 law before the start of a new school year this fall. Although his education secretary, Arne Duncan, has been working hard with lawmakers of both parties, the deadline may be unrealistic with Congress focused on the budget and the economy. Congressional Republicans also look unwilling to sign off on Obama's plans to increase spending on education.
Obama also made a plug Monday for the use of technology in classrooms, revealing that he himself has an iPad.
He turned back a plea from one questioner to grant a special protected status to students who are in the country illegally in order to prevent them from getting deported. Obama said it wouldn't be appropriate because that status has traditionally been reserved for immigrants fleeing persecution or disaster.
The president did pledge to keep working to pass the Dream Act, which would give undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children a chance to gain legal status if they enroll in college or the military. The legislation passed the House but failed in the Senate in December; it now faces even longer odds in Congress with the House controlled by Republicans.