Obama administration calls for standardized testing caps, but activists are skeptical

Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Education Secretary Arne Duncan

Education has been one of the Obama administration’s worst policy areas, with President Obama and outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushing standardized testing endlessly, among other problem moves. So it’s really good to see them walking back the test-and-punish model at least a little, as they announced over the weekend with a call to cap standardized testing to no more than two percent of time spent in the classroom. But while what we’ve heard from the administration so far sounds good, it’s not enough.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who has said he will leave office in December. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed

concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.
“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

As welcome as this announcement is, there are ample reasons for caution—and continuing pressure on the administration. The full plan won’t be unveiled until January, so what we have now is the part of the rhetoric that’s most likely to be popular. And two percent may sound good without being much of a cut. According to a new study, eighth grade is the year with the heaviest testing load, and in eighth grade, students average 2.34 percent of their time on tests (but the study didn’t find that increased testing time improved scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress). And Tim Farley points out that two percent of the school year is 23.4 hours, which is a bloody lot of testing.

The National Center for Fair & Open Testing released a statement saying that the administration’s announcement “belatedly admits that high-stakes exams are out of control in U.S. public schools but does not offer meaningful action to address that very real problem.” The Obama administration has to face pressure to turn its very welcome rhetoric into an improved reality, with meaningful reductions in testing and especially in high-stakes testing.

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