On Saturday, President Obama declared an over-emphasis on testing in our nation’s schools. in a twenty-year trend of increased accountability through increased testing, the administration acknowledged their role in pushing too much accountability through testing, set new goals for a lower percentage of time that student should be exposed to standardized testing and urged schools to make testing more purposeful.
In full disclosure of my own anti-testing bias, I have seen the increase in standardized testing actually narrow the curriculum, degrade schools and decrease good teaching and learning. Fifteen years ago, my doctoral dissertation of teacher opinion about student assessment found that teachers thought that alternative forms of assessment like portfolios and student projects were more valid in assessing student learning than standardized testing.
No one can accurately predict the future but my sense is that something will change at the national level because of this acknowledgement that we are over-testing students with standardized tests. Certainly there is a role for a good standardized test, but the over-use of testing has seriously handicapped our ability to help schools tackle rigorous curriculum through excellent instruction resulting in greater learning. Perhaps the coming change in the US Department of Education will make a difference? Secretary Arne Duncan will step down in December and return to Chicago.
Duncan’s tenure as secretary has been marked by a number of significant accomplishments on behalf of American students and teachers. He helped to secure congressional support for President Obama’s investments in education, including the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act’s $100 billion to fund 325,000 teaching jobs, increases in Pell grants, reform efforts such as Race to the Top and Investing in Innovation, and interventions in low-performing schools. (US Department of Education).
Arne Duncan’s successor is Dr. John King, the former Commissioner of Education in New York State.
Prior to his arrival at the Department, Dr. King had served since 2011 as the commissioner of education for the state of New York. In that role, he served as chief executive officer of the State Education Department and as president of the University of the State of New York, overseeing the State’s elementary and secondary schools (serving 3.1 million students), public, independent and proprietary colleges and universities, libraries, museums, and numerous other educational institutions. Dr. King was one of the nation’s youngest state education leaders at the time of his appointment and the first African-American and Puerto Rican to serve as New York State education commissioner (US Department of Education).
So a change in the Secretary of Education does not necessarily mean a real change in policy. But Dr. King has been in the middle of this battle and has certainly signaled his approval of this new direction. The departure of Dr. Duncan does mean a change in policies, for example, of setting up a competition for “A Race To The Top,” which contributed to the Obama administration’s over-emphasis on testing. These policies also resulted in linking student test scores to teacher evaluation and pushing local educational authorities to change their laws or suffer a lock-out from the Race To The Top competition. Perhaps a little fresh vision could be offered here for the future? Perhaps Dr. King will do that and more?
My own offering of vision goes like this. I see a turn away from top-down standardized testing and a return to the use of local testing grounded in much more valid types of assessment. But I also see that many will realize that the push for new and more rigorous standards should not be thrown out. The standards movement has helped us to define what is good enough, so let’s keep that. But let’s add more valid types of assessments that take place in classrooms and more accurately capture student achievement. And let’s add these into more classwork as formative assessments that help us capture student learning as it is being applied, rather than as it is recalled in isolating exams that are given out of context. My vision is continuous improvement of student learning through better standards, more formative types of assessment that are embedded in classwork resulting in greater learning for more students. Let’s use assessment to learn rather than scare. What do you think?