Kids Take Too Many Tests, Obama Administration Concedes

On Monday, President Barack Obama will meet with outgoing Education Secretary Arne Duncan (center) and incoming Education Secretary John B. King Jr. (left) to discuss standardized testing in schools.

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Between pre-K and 12th grade, the average American public-school student will take 112.3 tests, or roughly eight tests a year, according to a long-awaited report released Saturday by the Council of the Great City Schools. In eighth grade, sitting for mandatory tests—forget about all the prep and sample tests—takes up 4.2 days of school, or roughly 2.3 percent of the academic year.

The two-year study looked at testing patterns in 66 of the country’s biggest school districts and found that many of these tests are redundant, misaligned with curriculum, and often completely disconnected from the “college and career”–ready skills they were putatively designed to measure. The study also found little correlation between time devoted to testing and any improvement in math or reading skills.


On Saturday, in conjunction with the release of this, the first comprehensive survey of testing in the era of No Child Left Behind, the U.S. Department of Education released an action plan calling for “fewer and smarter assessments” while acknowledging its own role in the overtesting. And in a “pop quiz for parents and teachers” posted on the White House’s Facebook page, President Barack Obama asks,

If our kids had more free time at school, what would you want them to do with it?

A) Learn to play a musical instrument?
B) Study a new language?
C) Learn how to code HTML?
D) Take more standardized tests?

See where he’s going with this? The President continues:

When I look back on the great teachers who shaped my life, what I remember isn’t the way they prepared me to take a standardized test. What I remember is the way they taught me to believe in myself, to be curious about the world, to take charge of my own learning so that I could reach my full potential, to inspire me …


You get the idea. Obama certainly isn’t spurning testing altogether; he concedes that “in moderation, smart strategic tests can help us measure our kids’ progress in school.” The problem—which it seems many, many parents and educators have repeatedly brought to his attention—is that we have lost that sense of moderation somewhere along the way. Ya think?


From now on, the administration has declared, kids should only sit for tests that are “worth taking,” “high-quality,” and “time-limited,” with a cap of 2 percent of instructional time. And the results of these tests should be used alongside other metrics—classroom work and surveys and so on—to determine how kids are doing. After all, Obama concludes, “Learning is about so much more than filling in the right bubble.”

On Monday, Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, and Duncan’s soon-to-be successor John King will meet with teachers and school leaders in the Oval Office to discuss how exactly they’ll achieve these lofty goals. But will they address why they’re suddenly taking on these issues so close to the end of the administration, instead of, say, five years ago, when the brunt of the stringent testing requirements still fell on largely urban, impoverished communities? Could it have anything to do with the notably different demographics of the parents now demanding to be heard?