Posted in Obama, Race to the Top, Testing

Obama Administration “New” Testing Plan

The Obama administration has issued “new” guidelines for standardized tests and the President himself has come out against “too much” testing and in favor of making sure that we’re not “obsessing about testing.” President Obama spoke about good teaching, good education, and said that he didn’t like hearing from parents who said that there was too much testing and from teachers who said that too much testing took the joy out of learning. This is similar to what he said several years ago. Here is a report from 2011.

“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.”

At this point your irony meter ought to be hitting maximum…since “using tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools,” is exactly what the President’s education program, Race to the Top, is all about. “Failing schools” are defined by test scores…and Race to the Top encourages states to punish “failing schools” by closing them and replacing them with charter schools. Furthermore, Race to the Top also encourages states to evaluate teachers by test scores, something which is both unreliable and invalid.

The new administration testing plan doesn’t really change anything. The impetus for the change was a report from the Council of the Great City Schools which said that there was too much testing. The report called for less than the (average of) 2.3% of student class time spent on testing. In our local school district that’s 180 days X 6 hours a day X 2.3% = about 25 hours of testing a year. That length of time doesn’t include class time for test prep. It doesn’t include time talking to students about testing or teaching young students how to take a standardized test. It doesn’t include the time wasted by school corporation and school personnel sorting, organizing and labeling the tests. It doesn’t include class time used traveling to the computer lab for testing or rearranging classroom furniture so that students would be unable to see each others’ test booklets.

The administration’s new testing guidelines call for no more than 2% of student class time spent on testing. Using the formula above, we have 180 days X 6 hours a day X 2% = about 22 hours of testing a year.

So, the administration is calling for a maximum of about 22 hours a year testing instead of a maximum of about 25 hours a year testing. And there’s still all the extra time for test prep, testing talk, and wasted school personnel time. Big deal.

Where did Obama administration’s 2 percent cap on standardized testing come from? You won’t believe it. (Or maybe you will.) – by Valerie Strauss

…The 2 percent is not much less than the 2.3 percent that a new two-year study on standardized testing says kids now spend on these mandated exams…

…It turns out, according to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, it came from New York State. That’s where standardized testing administration and Common Core State Standards implementation have been so mishandled in recent years that 20 percent of students opted out of the tests this past spring, and the governor, Andrew Cuomo, turned on John King, the commissioner of education who resigned late last year and this year turned up as No. 2 to Duncan. Now, King is the designated successor to Duncan when he leaves his post at the end of this year.

At a gathering at the National Press Club on Monday, a reporter asked where the 2 percent limit came from. Duncan said to ask King because New York had passed a 2 percent standardized testing cap. The New York State legislature last year passed a series of changes involving public education, including on test-taking (1 percent for local standardized tests and 1 percent for state-mandated standardized tests) and test prep (2 percent, though not for charter schools, just traditional public schools)…

So we have President Obama’s new Faux Secretary of Education to thank for the 2% number. But standardized testing, as it’s practiced in the U.S. in 2015, doesn’t help teachers, doesn’t help students, and doesn’t help parents; In fact, it seems “reformers” are only interested in testing for two reasons. 1) to “prove” that schools and teachers are “failures” and 2) to force the closure of “failing” schools so privatization – and profit – can continue.

Department of Education SorryNotSorry About High Stakes Testing by Steven Singer

Can the administration prove any positive value for standardized testing? I’m not asking them to trot out the tired party line about equity. I mean can they prove that testing actually helps children learn in any appreciable way? If the answer is no (and Spoiler Alert: it is!) then we shouldn’t be wasting any more time with it. Not 2%. Not 1%. ZERO PERCENT!

…You can only lie to our faces for so long. Despite your best attempts to trash public education in the name of saving it, we’re not so dumb as to believe any more of your evasions, deceit and dishonesty.

In fact, the “new” guidelines are much like the old guidelines when it comes to using standardized tests in inappropriate ways. They will still be given to every student every year. They still have high stakes consequences for schools, teachers, and students. They will be misused, additionally, to label teacher preparation programs. They will still be used to grade and label schools, humiliate students, and evaluate and blame teachers.

Fact Sheet: Testing Action Plan by USED

Rulemaking on teacher preparation programs: Last December, the Department of Education released a notice of proposed rulemaking to improve the quality of teacher preparation programs by asking states to perform more rigorous evaluations of the quality of these programs based on more useful measures. In the proposed rule, the Department had suggested moving to a system that would measure the quality of a program by looking at certain discrete categories, including: success in placing teachers within a reasonable period of time after graduation, especially in high-need schools, surveys of teachers about the quality of their preparation, retention rates, employer surveys, and teachers’ impact on student learning. The proposal required that states place a significant weight on growth in student learning, including growth on statewide standardized tests in evaluating these programs. In the coming weeks, we will release a final rule that maintains a focus on student learning, but provides states flexibility on how to weigh the results of statewide standardized tests and measures of student learning more broadly in any teacher preparation accountability system that it develops. As in other areas, we believe that student learning as measured by assessment results should be a part, not the sole determinant, of determining the quality of a particular program. [emphasis added]

Curmudgucation gives us his excellent insight…

Obama’s Testing Action Plan Sucks (And Changes Nothing) by Peter Greene

…there is a difference between “I hear you, and we are going to find a way to fix this” and “I hear you, and we are going to find a way to shut you up.”

The fact that the administration noticed, again, that there’s an issue here is nice. But all they’re doing is laying down a barrage of protective PR cover. This is, once again, worse than nothing because it not only doesn’t really address the problem, but it encourages everyone to throw a victory party, put down their angry signs, and go home. Don’t go to the party, and don’t put down your signs.

…and the Network for Public Education…

Network for Public Education Fund Response to Obama Administration Statement on Testing by Carol Burris

…Anthony Cody, who serves as the vice-chairperson and treasurer of NPE, responded to the announcement by saying, “Limiting testing to 2% is a symbolic gesture that will have little impact so long as these tests are used for high stakes purposes.”

While the Department of Education remains wed to annual high-stakes tests, it is time for states and districts to call their bluff regarding flexibility. The research coming forward is clear. The overuse of standardized testing is educational malpractice. States should drop the destructive pseudoscience of VAM, empower educators to create their own meaningful assessments of learning, and get off the testing juggernaut.”

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The narrow pursuit of test results has sidelined education issues of enduring importance such as poverty, equity in school funding, school segregation, health and physical education, science, the arts, access to early childhood education, class size, and curriculum development. We have witnessed the erosion of teachers’ professional autonomy, a narrowing of curriculum, and classrooms saturated with “test score-raising” instructional practices that betray our understandings of child development and our commitment to educating for artistry and critical thinking. And so now we are faced with “a crisis of pedagogy”–teaching in a system that no longer resembles the democratic ideals or tolerates the critical thinking and critical decision-making that we hope to impart on the students we teach.

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Stop the Testing Insanity!
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A Manifesto for a Revolution in Public Education
Click here to sign the petition.

For over a decade…“reformers” have proclaimed that the solution to the purported crisis in education lies in more high stakes testing, more surveillance, more number crunching, more school closings, more charter schools, and more cutbacks in school resources and academic and extra-curricular opportunities for students, particularly students of color. As our public schools become skeletons of what they once were, they are forced to spend their last dollars on the data systems, test guides, and tests meant to help implement the “reforms” but that do little more than line the coffers of corporations, like Pearson, Inc. and Microsoft, Inc.

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Retired after 35 years in public education.