Obama, Duncan Call for ‘Smarter’ Standardized Testing

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President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan are asking for a weeding out of standardized tests, leaving only the high-quality, useful exams.

“I have directed [Education Secretary Arne] Duncan to support states and school districts in the effort to improve assessment of student learning so that parents and teachers have the information they need, that classroom time is used wisely, and assessments are one part of fair evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools,” Mr. Obama said in a statement Wednesday night.  

The move comes in response to a set of principles released earlier this week by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools.  The groups would like to see less standardized testing for students, who currently take an average of one test per month, sometimes as many as two.  Instead, the group is asking for the over-testing to be replaced with high-quality tests.

According to a new report released from the Center for American Progress, the number of standardized tests students take are largely determined by local districts.  The report discovered that students in grades K-2 take 3 times as many district tests as they do state tests and high school students on average take twice as many district exams.  This attitude is further emphasized in multiple states and districts where testing is promoted over learning through devotion of class time to test preparation, practice tests, and pep rallies.

However, the Center also found that students actually on average only spend less than 1.6% of instructional time taking these tests.

An “opt out” movement is growing among parents across the nation, who choose to let their children stay home on standardized testing days.  For them, a promise to review tests is not enough.

“Hollow pledges to ‘review the entire array of assessments’ are insufficient. In the short run, we need … an elimination of test-based consequences for students, teachers and schools,” said a statement from FairTest, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing

And now it seems school districts are following their lead.

The Miami-Dade school district decided to cut the number of standardized tests given this year, allowing for an additional 260 minutes of learning to take place – all time that would have been spent preparing for tests.

Students in the district will no longer take two sets of interim exams meant to track student progress according to state requirements.  However, only one of the exams were actually used for this purpose.

The district has also chosen to do away with a baseline assessment given at the beginning of the year, and several exams for elementary students.  In all, the district will administer 24 fewer exams this year.

Meanwhile, Barbara Byrd-Bennett, the chief executive of Chicago Public Schools, is asking for a delay in the use of PARCC, the Common Core exam developed by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers.

“The purpose of standardized assessments is to inform instruction. At present, too many questions remain about PARCC to know how this new test provides more for teachers, students, parents, and principals than we are already providing through our current assessment strategies.”

Despite being developed as a way to make cross-comparison of student performance possible through the test’s use across the nation, PARCC has had some problems.  In 2010, the test was in use in 26 states.  This year that number dropped to just 12.