Standardized tests waste time, are often redundant and add to student stress, outgoing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan says in an Oct. 26 interview with PBS. Duncan, who has headed the federal Department of Education since 2009, cites a report by the Council of Great City Schools as the impetus for the Administration’s call for a cap on testing, although anecdotal information had them reconsidering policy over the past several years. This past weekend, President Obama unveiled his Testing Action Plan, which calls for a limit of testing to 2 percent of classroom time.
It has been more than 13 years since the No Child Left Behind Act tied federal education grants to standardized tests. Originally touted as a way to hold educators accountable, the proliferation of fill-in-the-bubble tests has spawned fierce opposition, opposition that strengthened with the roll out of tests aligned to the new Common Core Standards. Under NCLB, a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, states were required to test students in grades 3-8 annually in English Language Arts and Math to be eligible for federal funds.
The Obama administration supported this testing structure with programs such as Race to the Top, a competitive grant program that required schools develop and implement “common, high-quality” assessments. In an effort to add rigor to teacher evaluations, most states began evaluating teachers based on their students’ ability to do well on standardized tests. Teaching to the Test, many claimed, became necessary as educators’ careers were on the line.
“Where we are doing things that are redundant, or duplicative, or not helpful, well, that’s a waste of everyone’s time and energy.” — Arne Duncan, Secretary of Education
The Great City Schools report, which surveyed its 66 districts, found that the average student takes roughly 112 standardized tests between pre-K and grade 12. The majority of these tests are not aligned with new college- and career-ready standards; many tests are redundant as state exams test information and knowledge already tested with local school exams. The report also found that increased testing time did not translate into better scores on national assessments. Performance on national tests actually stagnated in districts that devoted large amounts of time to testing.
Obama’s Testing Action Plan acknowledges that testing has gotten out of control and admits the administration bears some responsibility for this. The Action Plan outlines principles to correct the imbalance standardized testing has created in the classroom These principles include ensuring tests have value to education, provide accurate measures of growth and achievement, are time-limited (maximum 2 percent of class time), are fair and used as only one of several measures for evaluating student achievement.