One of my chief complaints as a parent about the public schools my children have attended is that the teachers spend too much time “teaching to the tests.” By tests, I am referring to the various standardized tests that are required in our state. Here, we have a state assessment test for elementary grades through eighth grade. I would attend school meetings in which the principals would insist that the teachers were not teaching to the test. Then, when the kids would go to class, they would come home with schedules that included time set aside to prepare for the state assessment test. Let’s just say I was confused as to how this was not “teaching to the test.”
Fox News provided these statistics about standardized testing from the Council of Great City Schools:
Students spend about 20 to 25 hours a school year taking standardized tests, according to a study of the nation’s 66 largest school districts that was released Saturday by the Council of Great City Schools.
In all, between pre-K and 12th grade, students take about 112 standardized exams, according to the council report. It said testing amounts to 2.3 percent of classroom time for the average 8th-grader.
Obama’s efforts should be welcome news for teachers and their powerful and largely pro-Democrat unions that say educators’ performance evaluations shouldn’t be tied to standardized test scores.
Among parents with children in public schools, 63 percent were opposed to linking teacher evaluations to their students’ test scores in a recent Gallup Poll.
Still, the president’s effort is also being met with doubt and skepticism.
“How much constitutes too much (testing) time is really difficult to answer,” said Michael Casserly, the council’s executive director.
The teachers at my kids’ school were really concerned about those state tests because the results impact the school’s year-end rating, which, in-turn, impacts funding to the school, and ultimately can impact teacher performance evaluations. It is easy to understand why teachers are tempted to (and why they act on the temptation) to teach to the test. Their reputations and their livelihoods depend on those tests. The problem with this system is that teachers’ hands are tied in regard to teaching methods and students don’t really get the best learning opportunities this way.
On the surface, it appears I would agree with President Obama and his call this weekend to put less emphasis on standardized testing. I do want fewer standardized tests. I want children to learn the basics of language and math in the elementary grades so they are able to really enjoy reading and learning in more mature ways as middle schoolers and high schoolers. But here’s the rub–I want this without having interference from the federal government on the issue, and President Obama is talking about legislating his position. Fox News reports:
Obama cannot force states or districts to limit testing, which has drawn consternation from parents and teachers. But he directed the Education Department to make it easier for states to satisfy federal testing mandates and he urged states and districts to use factors beyond testing to assess student performance.
In addition, The New York Times reports Obama will ask Congress make his plan into legislation.
More federal legislation is not the answer to the problems in our schools. Allowing parents and teachers at the local level to explore and evaluate the needs in their specific schools and then address them will go a lot further to improve education. Oh, and let’s have fewer standardized tests, too.