Koonlaba: Obama Administration Calls for Limits on Testing in Schools

12026668_10207696034495715_258832376_nThe Obama administration has called on Congress to limit the amount of time students spend on testing as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools. Specifically, they called for a cap at two percent of instructional time.

President Obama says that he believes smart, strategic tests can help us measure student progress. He says these tests should meet three basic principles:

  1. Only take tests that are worth taking
  2. Tests should enhance teaching and learning
  3. Tests should give us an all-around look at how our students and schools are doing.”

Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education who is resigning in December to be replaced by John King, said he still supports annual testing. He is also quoted as saying,

“But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

The Badass Teachers Association released a statement on this matter in which they share that they are reluctantly pleased with the announcement.

Diane Ravitch calls it a classic case of too little, too late. She goes on to say that the Obama administration

“cannot be absolved for the damage they have done to American education by issuing a press release.”

I am also reluctantly pleased to hear this administration ask Congress to reduce the amount of time students spend taking tests in school. It could be a step in the right direction, but I have some concerns.

First, everything that I heard President Obama say is common knowledge. Educators have known how to strategically use tests for years. Educators want to assess their students in order to better understand how to help them grow. Parents want teachers to have information about how to help their children improve academically. The use of tests to measure progress has never been controversial until this administration pushed out Race to the Top which called for teacher evaluations to  be significantly based on student test score data. So why, after all these years, are we just now getting this kind of call to action from the White House? Does this have anything to do with Arne Duncan’s resignation?

On the matter of Duncan’s resignation, President Obama appointed a man to replace him that is notorious for pushing corporate reforms that lead to the privatization of public schools. I am unsure how he can support corporate reforms by way of appointing a man like John King to be the Secretary of Education one minute and the next minute call for a cap on one of the biggest corporate reforms of them all: testing.

At first it was unclear to me whether President Obama meant the actual, official assessments should be capped at two-percent of instructional time or if he meant to include test prep in that cap. Let’s do a little math. If each school day consists of 355 minutes of instructional time and there are 180 days in the school year, students spend about 63,900 minutes receiving instruction during the school year. Two percent of 63,900 is 1,278 which is about twenty-one hours. So, the President must not be talking about test prep. He must mean the actual, official assessments. Twenty-one hours of actual, official test taking is not a significant decrease. If these scores are still tied to school ratings and teacher evaluations at such a high level, then excessive test prep will not end. President Obama’s appointing of John King as Secretary of Education and Arne Duncan’s admission that he still believes in annual testing lead me to believe they have no intention of killing the high stakes of current accountability (testing) models.

Conversely, if the President were to try to cap the amount of time students spend prepping for the tests, student test scores might actually go down. This would give the corporate reform movement more fuel since the more schools appear to be failing the more privatization measures can be implemented. A school currently rated B or Successful that is required to immediately adhere to a cap on test prepping would most likely end up being rated as a D or F after the next round of accountability testing. The next thing you know, charters will be opening left and right. The model for privatization has not changed. It is: defund, create the perception of failure (erode public faith), privatize. Is there a better way to create the perception of failure than making test scores and accountability ratings drop? I’m just speculating at this point, but it is something on which we should keep our weary eyes.

Finally, is this administration trying to swoop in to be the hero of public schools? Clearly parents are growing more and more dissatisfied with the testing regime in this country. Teachers and their unions have been calling for an end to so much testing for quite a while. This fluffy call for a cap should not cause us to forget where this all came from, for what reasons it was implemented, and that we cannot let down our guard. We the People have to be the guardians of our public schools.

Again, I say, it is time to wake up and stand up. Pay attention. I will help you by continuing to write and post here. I will most certainly be following up on this turn of events as more information is released.


Amanda Koonlaba is an elementary art teacher in Tupelo, MS. She is a contributor to MSEdBlog. Her views are her own and do not represent the views of any other entity.


One thought on “Koonlaba: Obama Administration Calls for Limits on Testing in Schools

  1. Thanks for the analysis!

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