Too Many Tests Take the Joy Out of Learning, Says Obama

The administration is calling on school districts to cap annual testing time.
(Photo: 'The Washington Post' via Getty Images)
Oct 25, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Samantha Cowan is an associate editor for culture.

Although kindergarten and senior year of high school have few similarities in curriculum, there are some daily tasks that follow kids from the ages of five to 18. Throughout these 13 years of schooling, the average child takes 112 standardized tests—and President Barack Obama thinks that’s too many.

“Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble,” Obama said in a video posted on Facebook. “So we’re going to work with states, school districts, teachers, and parents to make sure that we’re not obsessing about testing.”

On Saturday, the president and the Department of Education released a Testing Action Plan, noting that students should only take high-quality tests, limited to 2 percent of classroom time annually, and that they should be only one factor in learning assessment. The president cannot enforce caps on testing time for schools, but he plans to work with districts to make it easier for states to meet federal testing requirements in less time, according to The Associated Press.

The administration’s statement coincided with the release of a study from the Council of Great City Schools, which assessed testing at 66 of the country’s largest districts. Students spend an average of 20 to 25 hours taking standardized tests each year, with the average eighth grader spending 2.34 percent of class time taking standardized tests, according to the report. That figure doesn’t include the amount of time kids and teachers spend preparing or taking practice exams. The council concluded that many of these tests are uncoordinated and redundant, and that there is no correlation between mandated testing and overall academic achievement.

The battle over standardized testing has long been divisive. A PDK-Gallup poll released in August found that 64 percent of respondents felt there was too much emphasis placed on standardized testing, and that regular test scores and a student’s excitement better measured a child’s progress. George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind uses standardized testing to measure a school’s performance and its teachers’ as well. Because of that, many educators have felt forced to “teach to the tests” at the expense of other forms of learning.

“I hear from parents who rightly worry about too much testing, and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning both for them and for the students,” said Obama. “I want to fix that.”

The president will meet with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, along with teachers and other school officials, on Monday to help turn these guidelines into action and ensure that students only take tests worth taking.