Is the Pendulum of federal and state mandated testing in education finally starting to swing the other way? After almost 15 years of No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, and the heavy dependence on testing they brought on, the Obama administration announced on October 23 that “unnecessary testing” is “consuming too much instructional time” and creating “undue stress for educators and students. In this same announcement President Obama recalled that his best teachers were not the ones who prepared him best for standardized tests. This change in direction in the administration comes on the heels of a study by the Council for Great City Schools that found on average American students will take 112 standardized tests between Pre-school and high school graduation. As a result, kids have been spending more and more time sitting in their desks preparing for and taking tests that have been used to compare schools, teachers and districts. Even more disturbing is the fact that most of these tests do not inform the teacher, parents or the public on the actual growth of the students themselves. At the same time large and powerful publishing / testing corporations are raking in billions of dollars in profits. Last year Pearson Publishing, the largest of them all, took in 9 Billion dollars. While not all of it is from testing, their profits have risen exponentially during the test happy eras of Bush and Obama. Now Obama has stated that he supports cutting back on testing to only 2% of seat time during a school year. While 2% may look like a small amount of time, it still is a significant amount. Given that the average student is in school 185 days a year for 6.5 hours per day this still equals 24 hours per year or almost 4 full days per year.
This is not to say that all testing is bad. One of the positive results of standardized testing has been the spotlight on the persistent opportunity gap between white students and minority students (predominantly African American, Native American and Hispanic students). Unfortunately it has frequently stopped there. At the same time the tests scores have been used to negatively label schools or teachers and have not addressed the greater needs these very teachers or schools need. Many of the answers require the greater community and society to help solve this gap. More tests are not going to help. The best hope for our students is to engage them in their communities, schools and learning. This requires students to become much more active, spending time exploring their community and participating in it.
Large pendulums swing slowly and this will surely be the case with standardized testing. The large corporations
have much to lose. Legislators will not be able to rely on quick (and often meaningless) test data.
The roots of our testing culture are deep and will be challenged by the status quo. However it does seem that the pendulum is swinging and the big questions will be; how will educators turn this shift away
from standardized testing into opportunities that will truly engage students into wanting to become invested into their own learning and their communities?