The Obama administration has reversed course on the high-stakes, high-frequency federal testing policies of the last decade. Following the policies of the Bush administration's No Child Left Behind, programs like Race to the Top encouraged tests that were used for crucial decisions like school funding, teacher hiring, and school takeovers. They also increased the amount of time students spend testing, reducing their instructional time and contributing to curriculum that reduced breadth and depth of learning for more test preparation. Now, while not wholly abandoning standardized testing, the administration finally responded to mounting criticism against these tests and is calling for capping the amount of time students can spend on them.
While supporters of high-stakes testing have argued that tests are needed to keep schools accountable to their students and communities, in the past year there has been major backlash against what these students and communities are increasingly seeing as inequitably applied tests that reduce student opportunities and lead to harmful policies like charter school takeover. Tests have been used as graduation requirements, prompting some students, such as the Philadelphia Student Union, to speak out and protest. Teachers also argued against high-stakes tests, both because of their damaging use as hiring and firing guides, and because of the restrictive curriculum they inevitably created.
This July, the Schott Foundation joined a list of over 175 education groups in a letter supporting the growing "opt-out" movement. The letter to congress, written by Jitu Brown, argued that schools needed balanced assessments, restorative justice, and equitable funding: not high stakes testing. As Brown says:
In the Chicago Public Schools, for example, children in kindergarten through 8th grade are administered anywhere between 8 and 25 standardized tests per year. By the time they graduate from 8th grade, they have taken an average of 180 standardized tests! We are not opposed to state mandated testing as a component of a well-rounded system of evaluating student needs. But enough is enough.
It is clear the Obama administration has finally begun to hear these voices. The administration plans to release clearer guidance on testing by January, and has already called for a cap on testing that would require students spend no more than 2 percent of their instructional time taking tests. While this does not yet address all the policies parents, students, educators, and advocates have been calling for, it does move us closer to the right direction. You can find a fact sheet released by the Dept. of Education here.