AFT Joins Obama in Battle Against Teaching to the Test

One of the key aspects of President Obama's remarks on education in his State of the Union address was his keenness to see schools to stop teaching to the test.

And Randi Weingarten, President of the American Federation of Teachers, is backing Obama's goal, wanting to see teachers given more freedom to teach with "creativity and passion."

"I immediately recalled times as a teacher when I thought my students learned the most. It wasn't when we were intensely preparing for the Regents exams or any other standardized tests.

"My students were most engaged during project-based learning, when they worked in teams and wrestled with complex topics, such as the decision to drop the atomic bomb during World War II. My proudest moment as an educator was watching my students compete in the We the People civics competition and observing—after all their preparation—the confidence with which our teams debated constitutional issues."

Weingarten believes that it is these educational experiences that "excite students and teachers alike." However, it is these kinds of lessons that are being stifled by the current fixation on testing, despite teachers wanting to guide their students to ask insightful questions, offer well-reasoned opinions, and work diligently until they master content.

Now test-based accountability is being criticized by President Obama, California Gov. Jerry Brown and Texas Commissioner of Education Robert Scott.

But Weingarten wants to see more done, pointing at the differences in results between public and private schools and their differing opinions on tests.

"Most private schools do not administer high-stakes tests, and that is reflected in their curriculum and culture. Freedom from test fixation allows them to provide enriching experiences and in-depth instruction in an array of subjects."

Weingarten points out that public schools are required by laws to administer what critics believe to be too many low-quality standardized assessments.

"This, in turn, drives an excessive focus on the tests, test preparation and tested subjects."

While a recent examination of National Assessment of Educational Progress showed that disadvantaged students have made significant progress in the last generation, progress has stalled in the decade since NCLB and its unprecedented test-based accountability measures were enacted, writes Weingarten.

"Numerous policies enacted by the U.S. Department of Education since No Child Left Behind have skewed the emphasis toward testing and sanctions."

The AFT believes that the forthcoming Common Core State Standards, and the assessments being developed as part of their implementation, are important as current public school accountability mechanisms don't gauge good teaching or deep acquisition of knowledge.

"We hope that the views expressed from the bully pulpit of the presidency will be matched with state and federal action that moves away from the excessive fixation on testing and toward the appropriate use of assessments to support teaching and learning.

"That's what parents of advantaged kids seek when enrolling them in private schools, and that's what the highest-achieving countries do. And it's what we can and should do in every American public school."

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