As Common Core curriculum and testing has settled in across participating states, resistance to the high-stakes tests pressuring teachers, administrators and students has intensified. Last week, the Council of Chief State School Officers announced a series of guidelines that it hoped would help ensure that testing was limited and purposeful.
“High-quality assessments are an integral part of teaching and learning,” New York State Education Commissioner John B. King Jr. said in the CCSSO statement. Unfortunately, due to various pressures at the federal, state and local level, local testing has increased in many districts in New York, and this additional local testing does not always support good instruction and sometimes even crowds out time for student learning. Testing should be the minimum necessary to inform effective decision-making in classrooms, schools and districts.”
American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten applauded the direction but cautioned that it “addresses the symptoms, not the root cause, of test fixation. … It’s unconscionable that everything about our schools, our kids and our teachers is reduced to one math and one English high-stakes standardized test per year,” the Christian Science Monitor reported.
Seemingly caught off guard by the CCSSO announcement, the White House sought to take the edge off the widespread discontent from educators. That day, President Barack Obama issued a statement embracing the CCSSO position.
“I welcome today’s announcement from the Council of Chief State School Officers and the Council of the Great City Schools that state education chiefs and district superintendents will work together to cut back on unnecessary testing and test preparation, while promoting the smarter use of tests that measure real student learning,” the president said, adding that he has “directed Secretary Duncan to support states and school districts in the effort to improve assessment of student learning so that parents and teachers have the information they need, that classroom time is used wisely, and assessments are one part of fair evaluation of teachers and accountability for schools.”
Two days later, Education Secretary Arne Duncan dutifully penned an op-ed in the Washington Post that seemed to play both ends against the middle. Reaffirming his stance in favor of “high-quality assessments, including annual tests,” and lauding the current push toward more rigor and accountability, Duncan nonetheless gave a shout-out to the CCSSO position, specifically citing several states that have moved to limit testing.
Duncan noted that “many have expressed concern about low-quality and redundant tests,” adding that “in some places, tests -- and preparation for them -- dominate the calendar and culture of schools, causing undue stress.”
“Fortunately, states and districts are taking on this challenge,” Duncan wrote, “including places such as Rhode Island and New York state; St. Paul, Minnesota; Nashville; and the District, where leaders are already taking actions to limit testing. As they and others move forward, I look forward to highlighting progress others can learn from.”