White House calls for fewer mandated Common Core tests

After creating an educational curriculum that mandated a blizzard of standardized tests, taking up to 20% of class time and overburdening teachers with paperwork, the president admitted that they went too far in creating the testing regimen for Common Core and will ask schools to cut back.

The Guardian:

President Obama urged schools to cap standardized testing at 2% of classroom time. He also took responsibility for the federal government’s creation of a culture in which testing had become the “be-all and end-all” in pre-college education.

Obama and outgoing education secretary Arne Duncan plan to meet teachers and school officials in the Oval Office on Monday.

“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,” Duncan told the New York Times.

“But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators who are understandably stressed and concerned about an overemphasis on testing in some places and how much time testing and test prep are taking from instruction.”

Obama cannot force states or districts to limit testing. But the president has directed the Department of Education to make it easier for states to satisfy federal testing mandates. On Saturday he urged states and districts to use factors beyond testing to assess student performance.

The Obama administration said it still supported standardized tests as a necessary assessment tool.

Both House and Senate versions of an update to the George W Bush-era No Child Left Behind Act would preserve annual reading and math exams. The legislation is in limbo while negotiators in both chambers of Congress figure out how to reconcile the competing versions.

Administration officials said that in many cases testing is poorly aligned with curriculum or simply unnecessary. On Saturday they said the administration supported legislative proposals to cap testing time on a federal level, but wanted to offer states a model for how to cut down on testing, should Congress not take action.

Some might believe this is an issue of accountability. But Robert Zubrin, writing in PJ Media about the controversy in one Colorado school district, says that more than 1000 teachers have quit because of the time involved in prepping for and taking these tests, as well as Common Core paperwork requirements.

I have spoken to quite a few Jeffco school teachers, and they are indeed very upset, but mostly for reasons much more substantial than those provided on the recall petition. Specifically, while they are annoyed at the continued denial of meaningful raises, the thing that is really killing them is a massive amount of overwork caused by bureaucratic overload. Of the teachers I encountered, many are now working twelve hour days; six hours teaching, two hours of traditional preparation work, and four hours filling out online data entry forms, “setting goals,” being forced to read one vacuous educationalist methodology text after another, and engaging in numerous other unproductive exercises to satisfy enormous reportage requirements stemming from Common Core. In addition, the teachers find the wastage of something like twenty percent of class time on endless standardized tests extremely objectionable, as it makes creative teaching nearly impossible.

Now the fact of the matter is that this horrible stuff did not come from the Jeffco board. It came from the state and federal educational bureaucracies, both of which are controlled by the union’s liberal allies. The board must bear some responsibility too, however, because even though it didn’t invent this very Progressive wrecking operation against the public schools, it has chosen to go gleefully along with it. Instead of engaging in a left-right food fight with the teachers, the allegedly conservative board could and should have made common cause with them on this vital issue. But they did not, and as they have now outflanked the teachers far to the left in their support of educrat madness, really do deserve to be thrown out.

We all want accountability in schools, but at what price? Currently, students learn more about how to successfully take a test than they do about other vital subjects. There should be a way to avoid the problem of too much federally mandated testing while trying to maintain some semblance of accountability for teachers and administrators.

As it is now, teachers are bearing the brunt of this paperwork onslaught and education is suffering because of it.

Thomas Lifson responds:

There most certainly can be problems with standardized test taking, but I am highly suspicious about the proposed remedy. I have actually read some people blaming standardized testing for the Atlanta school cheating scandal on the grounds that teachers were “forced” into cheating because the tests were unrealistic. But without benchmarks the schools will be lost to unaccountable mediocrity.  Consider what is happening in the suburban Cotati Rohnert Park school system in idyllic Sonoma County. Jeremey Hay of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat:

A new grading scale that redefines what constitutes an “A” or an “F” is causing strife and confusion in the Cotati-Rohnert Park school district. Some teachers and officials say it lowers the bar for student success, while others say it encourages students to succeed.

The new system is called the equal interval scale. Essentially, it makes it harder to get a failing grade. It departs from the traditional A to F scale in which students receive F’s for scores below 59 percent. Instead, the scale awards F’s only for scores below 20 percent.

80% wrong answers and you pass! So bad is the new system that:

Some teachers have tried to hang on to the traditional grading system but have been tripped up by a blanket new policy that students, even if they do not hand in homework or take a test, get 50 percent. Under the new rule, it’s possible for a student who skips a test to receive a better grade than a student who takes the test and does poorly.

Public schools and the mega-donor teacher unions that elect school boards have created a system of perfect unaccountability. You can’t fire a tenured teacher without years and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent on hearings and legal proceedings.  America spends the most of any large country on schools and the results are terrible. The system is so bad that a certain amount of dysfunction owing to standardized testing is worth it if it simply exposes the incompetence being peddled to taxpayers as “education.”

If school districts select the remaining standardized tests, they will make sure that, as in Cotati Rohnert Park, you can pass by not showing up.

Only when public schools are replaced by vouchers will the problem be solved. The argument now is about how bad the schools will be.

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