Washington – Obama Says Too Much Testing Makes Education Boring


    President Barack Obama with Univision news anchor Jorge Ramos, during a town hall with students, parents and teachers at Bell Multicultural High School, in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington, Monday, March 28, 2011. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)Washington – President Barack Obama said Monday that students should take fewer standardized tests and school performance should be measured in other ways than just exam results. Too much testing makes education boring for kids, he said.

    “Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students or to, in some cases, punish schools,” the president told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington, D.C.

    Obama, who is pushing a rewrite of the nation’s education law that would ease some of its rigid measurement tools, said policymakers should find a test that “everybody agrees makes sense” and administer it in less pressure-packed atmospheres, potentially every few years instead of annually.

    At the same time, Obama said, schools should be judged on criteria other than student test performance, including attendance rate.

    “One thing I never want to see happen is schools that are just teaching the test because then you’re not learning about the world, you’re not learning about different cultures, you’re not learning about science, you’re not learning about math,” the president said. “All you’re learning about is how to fill out a little bubble on an exam and little tricks that you need to do in order to take a test and that’s not going to make education interesting.”

    “And young people do well in stuff that they’re interested in,” Obama said. “They’re not going to do as well if it’s boring.”

    The president endorsed the occasional administering of standardized tests to determine a “baseline” of student ability. He said his daughters Sasha, 9, and Malia, 12, recently took a standardized test that didn’t require advance preparation. Instead, he said, it was just used as a tool to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses. The girls attend the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington.

    Obama, who has been pushing his education agenda all month, has expressed concern that too many schools will be unable to meet annual proficiency standards under the No Child Left Behind law this year. The standards are aimed at getting 100 percent of students proficient in math, reading and science by 2014, a goal now widely seen as unrealistic.

    The Obama administration has proposed replacing those standards with a less prescriptive requirement that by 2020 all students graduating from high school should be ready for college or a career.

    Obama wants Congress to send him a rewrite of the 2001 law before the start of a new school year this fall. Although his education secretary, Arne Duncan, has been working hard with lawmakers of both parties, the deadline may be unrealistic with Congress focused on the budget and the economy. Congressional Republicans also look unwilling to sign off on Obama’s plans to increase spending on education.

    Latino students make up one in five of all students in prekindergarten through high school in the U.S. but lag far behind whites in educational attainment, with less than one in three graduating from high school, according to federal Education Department figures. Obama emphasized to his largely Hispanic audience the importance of staying in school and he noted that more and more jobs will require advanced degrees.

    Obama also made a plug Monday for the use of technology in classrooms, revealing that he himself has an iPad.

    He turned back a plea from one questioner to grant a special protected status to students who are in the country illegally in order to prevent them from getting deported. Obama said it wouldn’t be appropriate because that status has traditionally been reserved for immigrants fleeing persecution or disaster.

    The president did pledge to keep working to pass the Dream Act, which would give illegal immigrants brought to the U.S. as children a chance to gain legal status if they enroll in college or the military. The legislation passed the House but failed in the Senate in December; it now faces even longer odds in Congress with the House controlled by Republicans.

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    1. Say “NO” to the Dream Act!
      Say “NO” to illegal immigrants gaining Citizenship.
      Say “NO” to political appointees and/or staff that cheat on Taxes!
      This Administration is so crooked, it’s a sad joke!

        • Didn’t he? What about the revelation that Bush’s undergrad GPA at Yale was higher (marginally) that Kerry’s. P.S. I’ve got a hundred bucks that says Bush’s undergrad GPA at Yale was also higher than Obama’s undergrad GPA at Columbia.

    2. How about a school curriculum that would appeal to children of all ages? How about grand theft auto and other such exciting video games? How about some drug and alcohol parties in high school? How about keeping things real – as some cultures are wont to do? How about teaching real marketable skills in gang formation and instigator?
      Now that is a schedule I thing every public school student is interested in!!

        • I just believe that the students are unmotivated to be in school at all and parents – or should I said parent – don’t demand from their children to achieve on any level. If things go wrong it is always the schools fault. Schools cannot discipline, parents don’t discipline, everything needs to come free and easy. Well that just isn’t real life. I just don’t think Obama believes in achievement through hard work and doesn’t expect anything like that because its not fair to expect hard work from the underprivileged. If you actually achieve through effort then you must be spoiled and therefore need to pay. My reaction was a bit tongue in cheek and considering who it was coming from – well I don’t trust a thing he says!

          • You Sir or Madam have hit the nail right on the head. School in certain areas has become nothing more than a babysitting service. The parents don’t give a damn and their many times multi fathered offspring are just beyond dealing with. These comments are not from a position of bigotry but from seeing and hearing what really goes on at many inner city schools in America today. I have several close relatives who try their absolute best to teach but for every inch foward in progress they are thrown back a foot. There is no respect for authority and the system just goes with the flow. Violence is the norm and the schools just sweep as much as possible under the rug. Mr. Obama wants to lower the bar even lower to appeal to those who won’t conform to the realities of life. His reasoning may sound good to some but it won’t help educate the hard core problem kids.

      • There is no comparison between gta and the other examples you wrote.
        There are also plenty of exciting video games which won’t make you transgress Lo Tzisoro Acharyei Levavchem V’acharei Eneychem.

      • Another sad but all too true commentary. What you failed to list is a class in hate/violence filled rapp music to complete the days learning cycle. Just give the masses what they want and everything will be fine….Obama is the President but is in la la land with his new age ideas on education. Shame on him again!

        • You must be rather young. Obama’s ideas on education return the system to the days when we were most successful. Today, schools teach every kid the same curriculum in the same way as if they were configuring 25 computers to do the same job because the only goal is for each kid is to PASS THE TEST.

          Those of us who live in the real world have been shouting about this for nearly 2 decades. Before the days of standardized testing, how did we know Bronx Science was a good school? We saw what came OUT of it at the end. We measured the success of the kids after they graduated.

          As our yeshivos have learned over the last 20 years, you cannot teach every kid the same way. Some kids are meant for a life immersed in Torah 12 hours a day, and some not. We have been teaching all the kids the same way and encouraging them to stay in yeshivos when they belong in college or vocational . We are just now seeing the horrific results of our failures to properly educate and B”H many yeshivos are finally correcting those mistakes.

          Eliminating the standardized testing allows teachers to TEACH kids how to LEARN, as opposed to teaching kids to memorize. That’s the part that’s missing.

          • PMO, I am #16 but for reasons unkown my name didn’t appear and for the record in my early sixties. Everything you are saying may have lots of merit if there still were a level of students in urban America with a desire to learn. I will share with you the fact that I do have a close relation who teaches in the NYC public system. Every new approach to teaching available is tried and tried again, most times with little to no success with inner city kids. There are supplemental Saturday programs to enhance their weekday learning and that too most times goes nowhere.
            There is almost no parental interest in helping the kids learn. There is an endless amount of one parent families. Many parents are recent immigrants from third world countries where education was a low priority. The schools are nothing more than fancy baby sitting locations till the day ends. Many parents don’t even bother to get their own when the school day is over and at 5pm they are sent to the local police station to be held till the parents decide it’s time to show up. Violence is an every day way of life probably because it is used at home and horrible rapp music promotes it. to be continued…..

          • to continue…
            I am not an educator but have seen and heard from many that are and they are totally frustrated by their inability to get thru this type of student I am describing. In NYC students in some areas thrive. Probably because their cultural backrounds focus on education as being a high priority. You sir cannot imagine the dismay felt by both young and old well intentioned teachers when they are confronted by violence and total disrespect. It has become a never ending cycle in the inner city.
            You cannot even begin to compare that which was and that which now is in some areas. Different people, different sets of rules of conduct, different priorities and little educational focus.
            Your intentions are noble but unless you are seeing and hearing for yourself what the educational system of 2011 really is, you can’t truly understand it. Individual or innovative teaching works only with those who want to learn.

            • Allan,

              I think we agree here, although maybe it wasn’t clear in my comment. Every community, every school, & every student is different.

              I know many teachers who are all frustrated. Their hands are tied to a broken system.

              There is no magic bullet. Standardized testing may be a good way to ensure that those kids whose parents are indifferent to their literacy will at least be able to read, write, and do basic math. Perhaps in those schools which you described, that would be the solution. However, the “poor inner-city school” exists in only a few places in America. Setting that as the bar of achievement helps nobody.

              Good students need to be able to grow. These are the intellectuals of our future. The best students don’t need to memorize that 2+2=4. They need to learn how to understand WHY 2+2=4. They need to learn deductive reasoning and logic.

              The world’s greatest engineers used to be here in the US. Today, they are a dime-a-dozen around the world. Because we have stopped the flow of ideas and intellectual thinking.

              You are 100% right when you say “innovative teaching works only with those who want to learn”. Let’s just make sure that we give them what they need

    3. Wow. I’m finally impressed. At least on education and testing, he makes perfect sense. It’s the difference between extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. IOW – between motivating a student by forcing him to take tests, or motivating a child because he/she is genuinely interested in and curious about the subject. Any teacher can assign test after test after test and destroy a child’s love of learning. It takes a special school and special teachers to spark a child’s curiosity and make him WANT to learn. Now that’s an art, and Obama seems to get it. Read the top expert, Alfie Kohn, to learn more. Google his name. His articles are amazing. alfiekohn.org is his website. He is one of the top pedagogy thinkers and writers in the world, and a true expert on how to improve our schools.

        • Esther, there are many ways to measure teacher and school accountability without subjecting students to batteries of tests that never seem to end. In fact, if you want to turn a kid off, there’s no better way to do it than by turning the school into a test factory. As a teacher, I’m required to draw on wells of creativity to engage my students, both in the teaching and evaluating phases. Tests are only a small part of evaluation. There are many ways to evaluate students. It can be done in an original, fun and creative way. And by the way, my policy as a teacher has always been: if my students are bored and uninterested, it’s MY fault, not theirs. Do I want my students studying because “its on the test?” I pride myself in getting my students to learn, study, read and write because it’s PLEASURABLE! Imagine that! Start reading the articles at alfiekohn.org to gain a better understanding of the problems with standardized testing, as well as solutions to these problems.

          • i tottaly agree with you and commend you for being a wonderful teacher.yes tests certainly have their drawbacks,i hated them in school,but what about all the lousy teachers and schools tha acan’t be fired/closed? what’sthe answer?

    4. If you think the yeshivas are any better, you are sorely mistaken. Often they’re worse. Boring lessons, too many tests and insufferable repetition of facts is only half the problem. Do you want to know the ugliest truth that the yeshivas don’t want you to know? They’re beating up the kids. Seriously. And some are doing it with the full approval of the parents. People like you who read Vos Iz Neias. Your kids and grandkids go to very frum yehivas and there is often physical punishment and abuse in these schools. Not all yeshivas. But enough so that you should be very alarmed. How do I know? My son told me. I got him out of there pronto. Do your kids tell YOU the truth? What are you going to do about it?

    5. Mr. Obama may have some insight into a difficult process which we know quite well he was a very involved learner and participant. Testing is useful but to learn for sake of test taking is to require academia to overrule the art of exploration and discovery in your own educational process.

    6. President Obama is correct. “No Child Left Behind” should have been called “No Child Left Untested”. While there is a role for standardized tests, their importance has been blown way out of proportion. Thank you, President Obama, for restoring some sanity here.

      • Charlie, you might be interested in knowing that the largest beneficiary of the “No Child Left Behind” act was George Bush’s brother, Neil—-he has made millions of dollars selling testing materials to school districts (the information has come straight from Bloomberg BusinessWeek).

        Also, for those who claim that the teachers’ unions are the main ones against this—think again. The school administrators, who are NOT union members, are the most vocal with regard to their opposition to NCLB.

        • Any thoughtful person who works with children knows that the excessive testing unleashed on them in recent years has actually caused many students to regress. They simply shut down. It’s counterproductive. That’s why unions, administrators, teachers, and parents can stand united in opposing this harmful practice. If you care about the welfare of children, both physical and emotional, you will naturally want to protect them from this obsessive need to test, retest, test again, etc. Your point re: Bush benefiting from the testing is very interesting. And not surprising. I always say, “Follow the money….”

    7. Brilliant solution! Since children are bombing on standardized tests, let’s just cut back on testing, and things won’t look so bleak! That’s ever so much easier than just teaching them to read…

    8. Perhaps they should send these children to technical education or trade schools instead. They do poorly on standardized testing because people with lazy cultures do not do well in rigorous academic environments. Do you hear Indian or Chinese students complaining about this problem?

    9. Getting past the ritualized Obama-bashing there’s something worth looking at here. My wife works in Policy & Data Analysis at a large school district, so I get a lot of this over the dinner table.

      With NCLB schools are forced to teach to the test with the unintended consequence of encouraging schools to let kids drop out. A child who is struggling lowers test scores. Lowering test scores means defunding the school which further lowers test scores.

      Since their existence depends pretty much entirely on test scores schools cannot afford to educate. Any moment that’s taken away from memorizing a fact to be regurgitated on the tests is wasted. That means critical thinking, exploration, creativity and integrating what you’ve been taught with other things you’ve learned must be actively discouraged.

      Friends who teach at universities have seen the effects. Freshmen and sophomores are good at memorizing lists of facts which they could look up. They have real trouble writing an essay, analyzing something they’ve read, researching a subject or problem solving.

    10. PMO, we do agree.. but I should have not taken the politcally correct route and simply said that most of America’s educational issues are in minority areas. The use of inner city was to vague. Regretably these areas when totaled up represent a huge amount of America’s student base and future. My issue is with how do we break the never ending cycle that plagues these areas and impacks on education. Places where violence, drugs, criminal activity, a distain for authority, one parent families, young girls having babies and being celebrated by their families. This is not a new problem but one of a continuing nature. I have seen it my entire life in these areas with very little improvement if anything only getting worse.
      America will succeed in educating those who want it, but how do we get thru to those that choose to live in such horrible ways. I did say choose because there is a real world beyond their neigborhoods that they refuse to accept. We can not and should not ever lower the bar to accomodate this element.


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