Obama on testing: Huh?

Annual testing may not be necessary, said President Barack Obama at a town hall meeting on education for Hispanics.

” . . . let’s find a test that everybody agrees makes sense; let’s apply it in a less pressured-packed atmosphere; let’s figure out whether we have to do it every year or whether we can do it maybe every several years; and let’s make sure that that’s not the only way we’re judging whether a school is doing well.”

That left a lot of people confused, writes Michele McNeil on Politics K-12. After all, Obama’s Education Department strongly favors annual testing.

Teacher Anthony Cody piles on: Obama is attacking his own education policies. For example:

  • Race to the Top requires states to tie teacher pay and evaluations to student test scores? If ever there was a recipe for teaching to the test, this is it!
  • his Secretary of Education is proposing to evaluate teacher preparation programs by tracking the test scores of the teachers they produce?
  • his administration’s plan for the new version of No Child Left Behind continues to place tremendous pressure on schools attended by the poorest students, ensuring that there will still be extremely high stakes attached to these tests? This creates the most invidious inequity of all — where students most in need of the sort of wholistic, project-based curriculum the President rightly says is the cure to boredom remain stuck in schools forced to focus on test scores.
  • that his Department of Education is proposing greatly expanding both the number of subjects tested, and the frequency of tests, to enable us to measure the “value” each teacher adds to their students?
  • Progressives should stop “wringing their hands about the limited ability of a standardized test to capture the full range of learning experiences,”  argues Matt Yglesias. He gives the definition of “basic” reading competence for NAEP Grade 8:

    Eighth-grade students performing at the Basic level should be able to locate information; identify statements of main idea, theme, or author’s purpose; and make simple inferences from texts. They should be able to interpret the meaning of a word as it is used in the text. Students performing at this level should also be able to state judgments and give some support about content and presentation of content.

    Nationwide, 26 percent of  eighth graders — 30 percent of boys, 40 percent of low-income students, 44 percent of blacks — test below this level. “They can’t identify statements of main idea, theme, or author’s purpose; and make simple inferences from texts,” writes Yglesias.

    This kind of basic reading competency is definitely something we can measure on standardized tests. And it’s important.

    If these students are tested occasionally by their teacher, but don’t take the same tests as other students, if nobody outside the school monitors their progress, will they learn more? That’s not what happened before No Child Left Behind. I also lack faith in a holistic, project-based curriculum to teach the children of poorly educated parents.

    About Joanne


    1. Upon signing NCLB, President Bush explained, “If you want kids to learn reading, writing, and math, and you test them on reading, writing, and math, what’s the problem?”

      Well, nothing in theory. But the real world isn’t theory, society and education are emergent systems, and oversimplification has screwed up quite a few policies in the past decade.

    2. SuperSub says:

      Re: Anthony Cody’s comment –
      Struggling students do not need a wholistic, project-based curriculum. That’s like tossing a deflated beach ball to a drowning person and telling them to blow it up themselves.

    3. SuperSub says:

      ummm… (blushes)…. yeah, holistic without the “w.” (hides head in shame).

    4. Well, I guess if your furnace isn’t heating your house properly, you could just stop looking at the thermometer and tell yourself that everything is fine. Until the icicles start growing on the ceiling.

      Next up: Obama will tell the FAA to stop requiring written and practical tests for pilots, since these cannot *perfectly* capture one’s aeronautical knowledge and judgment. (No doubt there will be an exception for pilots who transport government officials)

    5. His campaign for 2012 is starting up – officially, that is.

    6. If the skills which standardized tests are so low-level, why not communicate them in the first week of school and spend the rest of the year saving the planet and promoting social justice?
      President Obama criticizes standardized tests, contrary to the policy of his own Department of Education? As Col, Gadhafi might consider, all Obama pronises come with an explanation date.

    7. I’m not anti-testing but I don’t think the benefits of doing it annually rather than periodically outweigh the costs (financial, time spent testing rather than instructing students, etc). I’d much rather see “exit exams” for each stage (primary, elementary, jr. high, and sr. high).

    8. Thinly Veiled Anonymity says:

      A Modest Exam Schedule for Standardized Data Collection, by me, for when I am named Ultimate Dictator of some small state with modest resources. This takes effect right after I hire Crimson Wife as my Lord High Secretary of Educational Testing, complete with a funny uniform and lots of medals and braid.

      * First Grade: Entrance exams taken in mid-October.
      Purpose: To figure out where different kids are and establish reading levels for tracked reading instruction.

      * Third Grade: Exit Exam from Primary Grades taken in May. No retest.
      Purpose: To re-assess reading ability, provide initial tracking for mathematics, and to serve as a threshold for advancing to 4th grade. No pass, no advance.

      * Fifth Grade: Routine Assessment in December.
      Purpose: To re-assess tracking for reading and math for second-semester and 6th grade.

      * Sixth Grade: Exit Exam from Elementary Grades taken in June
      Purpose: To set class-levels for junior high and to serve as a threshold for advancing to Jr. High. Honors classes start in 7th grade.

      * Eighth Grade: Exit Exam from Junior High taken in May. Re-test over the Summer in July for those who fail.
      Purpose: Threshold for entrance to high school and to provide initial class levels for Sciences. (Tracking at this point between Remedial/General/CP/Honors is primarily based on class performance. An A will get you the opportunity to go up a track, a C- will automatically drop you a track.)

      * Tenth Grade: Statistical Assessment taken in January.
      Purpose: To normalize grading across classes. This data is not made available to the student and is solely for use by Principals to ensure that gross grade inflation is not taking place.

      *Twelfth Grade: High School Exit Exam
      Purpose: To serve as a threshold exam in Literature, Grammar, History, Science, and Mathematics. No pass, no graduate.

      And that’s it. These, the AP/IB tests, and the SAT/ACT (when they aren’t on weekends) are the only time teacher classroom time gets interrupted for testing.

      Nothing I can do about assemblies and pep rallies…. even an Ultimate Dictator only has so much power. Note, though, that nowhere does His Lordfulness decree that tests shall be used to measure teacher effectiveness. NOTHING turns on these exams as far as the school or the teachers are concerned except that they are not relieved of their students until they pass the exit exams. It might get awful crowded after a while if the principals don’t get rid of poor teachers…

    9. Richard Aubrey says:

      That the president is even asked about testing indicates that the federal government is far too influential in our society. POTUS, love him or loathe him (I favor the latter) is not in a position to affect education. Giving him and the congressworms power over education is insane.

    10. CarolineSF says:

      It seems to me a point is being missed –the issue is not the fact that standardized tests are given but the high stakes attached to the tests.

      As a parent, I do appreciate having standardized test scores for my kids so I can get a snapshot of their achievement in a greater context. (This is especially true as I’m constantly being told by outsiders that their urban public schools are “failing” and that their education must be substandard.)

      The high stakes attached to the tests don’t apply to the students in most cases. (An exception is the “time to say bye-bye to your art and music and march into remedial math and language arts now” situation.) The high stakes apply to the schools that can be closed and to the administrators and teachers who may lose their jobs or get raises under the current education-policy climate.

      Linda Perlstein’s first-rate book “Tested” describes a year in a low-income school doing its utmost to raise its test scores, and sacrificing actual learning to do it.

      Campbell’s Law explains why not only do schools distort their teaching practices to raise test scores, but cheating is inevitable the higher the stakes get:

      Wikipedia: Campbell’s law is an adage developed by Donald T. Campbell:[1]

      “The more any quantitative social indicator is used for social decision-making, the more subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to distort and corrupt the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

      The social science principle of Campbell’s law is sometimes used to point out the negative consequences of high-stakes testing in U.S. classrooms.

    11. palisadesk says:

      Thinly Veiled Anonymity suggested:

      * Third Grade: Exit Exam from Primary Grades taken in May. No retest.
      Purpose: To re-assess reading ability, provide initial tracking for mathematics, and to serve as a threshold for advancing to 4th grade. No pass, no advance.

      OK, that makes sense. Except, then what do you do with the kids who don’t pass that 3rd grade exam — year after year? (Yes, there are 8th graders who wouldn’t pass it — some have had lots of academic support).

      My first teaching job was in a rural school system that had a strict no-pass, no-advance rule. I taught fourth grade. Of my 39 students, only about 10 were the appropriate age for fourth grade. I had a pregnant fifteen year old, a fourteen year old boy who looked 20, a half dozen 13-year-olds and a bunch of 11 and 12 year olds. Are we ready for student parking lots for primary grade students?

      “Special Ed” is not the answer, and besides that, many parents refuse special education placments. What do we do with the kids who can’t, don’t or won’t meet the standards? I doubt many parents today would accept their children being in classrooms like the fourth grade i had.