Saturday, April 02, 2011

President Obama Signals Moderation on Testing

President Obama’s recent comments on testing and accountability espoused principles that might be acceptable by both sides in the re-authorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act. But they are less reflective of Arne Duncan's current policy in the “Race to the Top” program. President Obama reflected some concern for high-pressure standardized tests, narrowing of the curriculum, the failure of standardized tests to properly gauge higher-order thinking skills, and student disengagement.

Last week, a Washington, D.C. high school student asked the president, “Could you reduce the amount of tests?”

Well, I think probably what you're referring to are standardized tests -- because if you're just talking about your math or your science or your English test, tough luck -- (laughter) -- you’ve got to keep on taking those tests, because that's part of the way that teachers are going to know whether you're making progress and whether you understand the subject matter.

What is true, though, is, is that we have piled on a lot of standardized tests on our kids. Now, there’s nothing wrong with a standardized test being given occasionally just to give a baseline of where kids are at. Malia and Sasha, my two daughters, they just recently took a standardized test. But it wasn’t a high-stakes test. It wasn’t a test where they had to panic. I mean, they didn’t even really know that they were going to take it ahead of time. They didn’t study for it, they just went ahead and took it. And it was a tool to diagnose where they were strong, where they were weak, and what the teachers needed to emphasize.

Too often what we've been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools. And so what we've said is let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that's not the only way we're judging whether a school is doing well. Because there are other criteria: What’s the attendance rate? How are young people performing in terms of basic competency on projects? There are other ways of us measuring whether students are doing well or not.

So what I want to do is -- one thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching to 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 earning about math. All you're learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and the little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test.

And that's not going to make education interesting to you. And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in. They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.

The advocates of a Broader, Bolder Approach called Obama's statement a denunciation and suggested that:
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Congressional leaders should now re-examine these policies and proposals in light of the principles that President Obama has articulated.

1) The Administration has urged in its prominent Race to the Top initiative that teachers be evaluated in part, and sometimes in large part, by the annual growth of their students’ standardized test scores. This will not be possible if standardized tests are administered “every several years.”

2) Likewise, the dministration has proposed retaining the requirement of the No Child Left Behind Act that students be tested annually in math and reading. This requirement has, as the president suggested, led to “schools that are just teaching to the test” and to students learning “little tricks” rather than rich, meaningful content and skills, and it should be abandoned.

3) The Administration has proposed that the bottom 5 percent of schools be subject to drastic “turnaround” reforms, including firing all or most of their teachers and principals. Given the importance cited by the President of measures of student performance such as “basic competency on projects” and “other ways [besides standardized tests of] “measuring whether students are doing well or not,” no school should be identified as failing without considering such a alanced group of indicators.

The President clearly understands well the importance of evidence-based education policies that will engage students and elevate teachers as professionals. These insightful points should guide Administration policy, as well as the thinking of all those concerned with improving U.S. education.


Anonymous said...

Democracy is run by those who show up, you write. I agree. I might add that justice is served when people know the facts. Independent blogs like yours are important in promoting both democracy, justice, and the free flow of information.

There are now two more lawsuits against Stu Silberman. They are visible on the Fayette County Court docket. Lafeesha Patton is suing Mr. Silberman, as is Denise Jones. There is also a lawsuit in which the chairman of the board of education is the chief defendant. Is this number normal?

I do hope, that you will continue to publish the reasons for these suits and don't forget the Hurley Richards case and that of Cowan vs. Silberman.

Thank you,

A FCPS employee

Kandyce Montgomery said...
I do not thing that standardized testing should be the main way to measure a students success. I know that in my own personal experiences that I am not good at standardized tests but I have a good GPA. I have taken the ACT and the Praxis. Some days I would score higher than others and some days it would be lower. It would depend on basically what questions I lucked up with as well as stress level. For this reason I do not think that students should measured on their knowledge through standardized testing.