Editorial: Obama expresses need for standardized testing reform

WCC's sculpture 'Open Doors'“If my future were determined just by my performance on a standardized test, I wouldn’t be here. I guarantee you that.”

– First Lady Michelle Obama

On Oct. 24, President Barack Obama announced a plan to reduce stress for younger students: less time spent on standardized testing in the classroom. While an ongoing debate has ensued concerning the pros and cons of such tests, studies are showing that there is no direct correlation between taking these tests and student educational achievement. Where there is a correlation, however, is between standardized testing and more stress put on teachers and students.

Testing throughout K-12 grades puts pressure on students to feel that they are going to be represented by their test scores. That same feeling can add a burden to educators who think their value can be set by their students’ scores. As highlighted by a tweet from the National Education Association, students, parents and educators can finally feel that their concerns over these stressors have been heard.

Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, does feel that students need to be evaluated at least once a year to make sure they are staying on the necessary path for educational success. On the other hand, he does note having countless discussions with teachers 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.”

These testing reforms highlight that testing can be a good thing in moderation, but moderation is in no way being practiced. In a survey from the Council of the Great City Schools, as cited by the New York Times, it was revealed that 112 mandatory standardized tests are given between pre-kindergarten and high school graduation – coming out to about eight tests per year. Even in eighth grade, the year with the lowest amount of testing, the currently recommended amount was exceeded.

Obama expresses that testing should be utilized simply as a measurement tool of success, among others, rather than “crowding out teaching and learning.” Obama’s new plan recommends that students spend no more than two percent of classroom instruction time to take these tests. It also suggests that parents be notified if the testing duration will exceed that.

However, Obama’s standardized testing reform is mainly a suggestion. According to CNN’s White House report, more details will be released in January about Obama’s plan. As of now, testing differs from state to state, so ultimately the decisions lie amongst the school districts. Parents, students, and educators have seen now that their voice have been heard on a national level. This sentiment should be inspiration for those who care to take their complaints to the authorities on a local level.

Student success measurement is key to understanding the quality of education being given and how students fall across the spectrum, but the amount it’s being administered is excessive. If what the administration is ultimately looking for is a way of measuring success from student to student, why not administer the same standardized tests nationally, the same way the ACT is given now?

Either way, Obama’s testing reform shows yet another way the president is trying to ensure he gets the conversation started on the big issues before the end of his term, and education is a great place to start.

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