Sunday, October 25, 2015

Failing The Test

In what has to be considered a staggering about-face, the Obama administration now admits the testing uber alles regime of Common Core has gone too far, and that schools need to take a step back and start to limit tests.

Faced with mounting and bipartisan opposition to increased and often high-stakes testing in the nation’s public schools, the Obama administration declared Saturday that the push had gone too far, acknowledged its own role in the proliferation of tests, and urged schools to step back and make exams less onerous and more purposeful.

Specifically, the administration called for a cap on assessment so that no child would spend more than 2 percent of classroom instruction time taking tests. It called on Congress to “reduce over-testing” as it reauthorizes the federal legislation governing the nation’s public elementary and secondary schools.

“I still have no question that we need to check at least once a year to make sure our kids are on track or identify areas where they need support,” said Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, who has announced that he will leave office in December. “But I can’t tell you how many conversations I’m in with educators 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.”

“It’s important that we’re all honest with ourselves,” he continued. “At the federal, state and local level, we have all supported policies that have contributed to the problem in implementation. We can and will work with states, districts and educators to help solve it.”

Teachers’ unions, which had led the opposition on the left to the amount of testing, declared the reversal of sorts a victory. “Parents, students, educators, your voice matters and was heard,” said Randi Weingarten, the president of the American Federation of Teachers.

And even some proponents of newer, tougher tests said they appreciated the administration’s acknowledgment that it had helped create the problem, saying it did particular damage by encouraging states to evaluate teachers in part on test scores.

But the administration’s so-called “testing action plan” — which guides school districts but does not have the force of law — also risks creating new uncertainty on the role of tests in America’s schools. Many teachers have felt whiplash as they rushed to rewrite curriculum based on new standards and new assessments, only to have politicians in many states pull back because of political pressure.

Education Secretary Arne Duncan has for years promised that Common Core standards and rigorous testing were the keys to making American public schools more accountable and students more prepared to face the 21st century, and more importantly close the gap between successful exurban white schools and crumbling inner city black and Hispanic schools.

The admission that testing needs to be dialed back is all but indicating that the 20-year effort to fix our schools has all but failed completely.  Common Core has been the worst of both worlds: declaring that teachers and schools should be commercialized and profitized, and then purposefully abandoning the students who needed the most help in the poorest schools in the country.

We've decided over the last two decades that an education only goes to those who deserve it by dint of class, to lavishly fund those schools for the rich and leave the rest to fight over the scraps, to create winners and losers in school almost from birth.

Only now have we realized that we created a monster instead.

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