President concerned with too much testing but it’s still part of Race to the Top

Testing has become today’s blog theme. President Obama addressed the topic at the town hall meeting this morning at Bell Multicultural High School in Washington. (See earlier blog on this event.)

“Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students,” said Obama.

The president has expressed this view before in discussing needed changes to No Child Left Behind, the sweeping federal law that President Bush enacted and that he considered his signature legislation. Testing is the foundation of NCLB, which rewards and punishes schools based on student scores.

However, despite Obama’s comments, the use of testing to judge teachers is a part of his own signature initiative, Race to the Top, which calls for new models to evaluate and reward teachers that consider student achievement. Georgia is one of the states that will develop and pilot new teacher evaluations in which student performance on tests will be a factor.

According to the story in the AJC:

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 but was just used as a tool to diagnose their strengths and weaknesses, and areas where they could use more emphasis from teachers.

–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog

60 comments Add your comment


March 28th, 2011
4:50 pm

Obama’s words: Well, duh. (See my posts on the earlier blog.)
Obama’s actions: We’ll see.


March 28th, 2011
4:51 pm

Someone is confused.

Dr. John Trotter

March 28th, 2011
5:05 pm

Weighing the pig over and over does not ensure that the pig will get fatter. Just my thoughts… What say ye?


March 28th, 2011
5:07 pm

Does he even talk with Arne Duncan? Does he realize the mandates that were written in the RttT grant center around increased testing? No one had a chance to win the grant unless they were willing to increase testing (pre/post test, tests for every subject, etc), increase accountability through testing, and tie teacher pay to test scores.

And speaking of RttT…I had an interesting talk with a central office administrator in a RttT district. There is some serious confusion going on regarding the grant, teacher pay, etc. And…they’ve crunched the numbers and guess what? They’ll be lucky if they have any money to pay for anything besides paper pushers. He said the paperwork requirements are going to be tremendous and they will have to hire additional administrators to handle the deluge. This person was just a wee bit disgruntled with the whole RttT thing.


March 28th, 2011
5:08 pm

And right when you thought that America could not “Dumb Down” anymore. There’s Obama!

Mikey D

March 28th, 2011
5:08 pm

Seems a little disingenous and hypocritical of the president to now come forward (rather conveniently, as the rampant cheating is being uncovered and folks like Rhee are being exposed as frauds) to speak out against over-testing, while at the same time calling race to the top a significant reform when all it really does is place an emphasis on compensating teachers based on test scores.

hs teacher

March 28th, 2011
5:09 pm

Typical politician double speak. He feels that tests are boring but he mandates that these tests determine if a school is successful and these are the tools that his No Child Left Behind legislation, Race to the top, uses to determine accountability for an educator. He truly must be out of touch if he thinks a teacher is not going to teach to a test when that is what determines my pay and job status. My goal is to make sure they pass this test. As FBT said, he’s confused and I voted for the guy.


March 28th, 2011
5:09 pm

@John T – agreed!


March 28th, 2011
5:19 pm

It is a case of the right hand not knowing what the left is doing…..


March 28th, 2011
5:23 pm

And this is coming from a President who stood next to Jeb Bush a few weeks ago and gushed over his education reform initiatives….

He is clueless about education. I think he sincerely wants every child to receive a good education. He just doesn’t have a clue about how to get there and made the fatal mistake of choosing the wrong people to advice him.

Just because someone is a good friend to shoot a few hoops with on the weekend, doesn’t make him knowledgeable enough to run the Dept of Ed. Working in your mom’s after school program doesn’t make you an educator.


March 28th, 2011
5:24 pm

*advise* him…


March 28th, 2011
5:44 pm

He’s a helicopter President with under 2 years left! :)

Attentive Parent

March 28th, 2011
5:47 pm

I don’t think he is clueless about education in the least. It’s just that he cannot be honest about the true educational agenda if he wants to be reelected in 2012.

The purpose of Race to the Top was to force adoption of national standards that would force recalcitrant school districts who still wished to emphasize academics away from that emphasis. The type of socialized learning that has been the goal for decades is impeded by standardized testing because it shows how little is actually being learned.

Calling the assessments being created by PARCC and SBAC tests is inaccurate. Even the College Board has acknowledged that the assessments are based on an unvalidated, theoretical concept of what constitutes “learning”.

If CCSS is implemented as currently designed in public documents too few have bothered to read, our public schools will, despite great expense, cease to be a social elevator to move beyond the circumstances you were born into.

Does everyone get that CLASS Keys represents the vision of what all teachers will be doing in their classrooms once CCSS is implemented?

Just keep thanking Kathy Cox for treating Georgians as guinea pigs to be sacrificed for her ambitions.

Jordan Kohanim

March 28th, 2011
6:18 pm

Attentive Parent, you said, “If CCSS is implemented as currently designed in public documents too few have bothered to read, our public schools will, despite great expense, cease to be a social elevator to move beyond the circumstances you were born into.”

What do you mean? I’m very interested in this, but have too little knowledge. I’ll check it out further, but I’d love to know your views.

Private School Guy

March 28th, 2011
6:36 pm

The federal government either needs to fully take over the schools or fully leave education to the states. What we have now is a muddled mess with local schools jumping thru hoops designed by the DOE that are for the most part making the local schools more burdened with administrative tasks. But Obama like everyone before him knows that the country won’t go for a national school system so the mess continues.


March 28th, 2011
6:41 pm

I’m not “in education”, but just by what I’ve read here lately, I’m getting a clearer picture of what RttP is. Has anyone here been involved in “scripting” in their workplace? Most famously utilized in telephone customer service applications, but I personally viewed it in a hospital setting. You’re given lots of tools for that success “toolbox” that we’ve heard so much about.Those tools are scripts for every scenario, including what to do,what to say, when to say it, and how to say it,etc Apparently it’s the admin. technique of the moment to get the “outcomes” they desire. What a load of CRAP! It was CRAP in the hospital and it is CRAPnow to expect educators to climb the precariously balanced mountain of formage/documentation AND be able to make it fun and interesting for each child so they’re really LEARNING, AND get the required test scores, all at the same time!
Just reading these blogs and comments makes me crazy….I can’t imagine how those of you that are actually “living the dream” of educating our youth are staying the least bit sane. My hat’s off to all of you!

South Georgia Teacher

March 28th, 2011
6:57 pm

We’ve always had “post tests.” We used to call them “unit tests.” By adding pretests this year at the beginning of each unit in every subject, we simply doubled the amount of tests administed to students. Guess what, when testing, the teachers aren’t teaching! Really, I don’t need pretests to tell me what my kids know and don’t know. I am not looking for that magical “growth comparison.” I am looking for understanding of content and student ability to apply what they’ve learned. With twice as much testing, it is hard to find time for application. Hopefully, this too shall pass. Eventually.


March 28th, 2011
7:01 pm

The tragedy is that instead of challenging the politicians’ testing fetish on exactly the grounds Obama now belatedly notes, ambitious superintendents played along. They bullied teachers in low-achievement schools to teach to the test – thereby wrecking the disadvantaged kids’ education. When that failed they orchestrated cheating to show good results.

And who among us refused to use test scores as ways to measure school and system performance? Too darn few.


March 28th, 2011
7:02 pm

We need to quit letting those who don’t do the job dictate how the job is done!


March 28th, 2011
7:15 pm

teacher and mom: “They will HAVE to hire ADDITIONAL ADMINISTRATORS” LOL like they needed another “reason” to have more chiefs! Blame it on Obama!

As to the lack of money from RttT to actual classroom teaching: How many of us predicted that very thing in this very blog!?

Me: thank you for explaining that. I could not figure out how all these medical folks would ask me the same exact questions, no matter WHY I was in the hospital! (Blood sugar, chest pain, allergic reaction, pneumonia)


March 28th, 2011
7:15 pm

Thank you, Maureen, for pointing out the hypocrisy. It’s not just Obama who is a hypocrite. Our Republican government in GA loves to talk about getting big government out of our lives, but they prostitute themselves to get RTTT money, which gives the federal government more say in Georgia’s education policy.


March 28th, 2011
7:51 pm

@ Me
Neil Bush (remember George’s brother who was involved in the S&L debacle) started the educational software company Ignite! along with Ken Leonard.

His company market the COW (Curriculum on Wheels) a scripted learning program.

America’s Choice, an extremely expensive and scripted learning program, was spun off as a profit center from the ACT non profit organization (you know them – their competition is the SAT). The College Board who is in charge of the SAT has its own scripted learning program called Springboard.

Money, money, money for all these tests and programs, but all those dollars mean less teachers actually teaching students.

Look at some of the connections between the Bush administration and the lucrative scripted learning programs.


March 28th, 2011
7:53 pm

Sorry. The post above was @Me regarding the proliferation of scripted learning programs. If you dislike those scripted telemarketers reading a script, think what it must be like for students to hear that all day long!

DeKalb Parent

March 28th, 2011
7:57 pm

First, that which doesn’t get measured doesn’t get done. This applies to Civil Rights and education.
Second, if I were a teacher and teaching a subject that builds (such as math or a foreign language) on what the student knows, I would pre-test on the first day – both to understand what each student knows and the breadth of competency within my class.
Third, if teaching to the post-test is not teaching what the student needs to learn, then the test is wrong and needs to cover what the student should know.


March 28th, 2011
8:41 pm

Tie school performance to attendance rates? So now taxpayers are supposed to pay for daycare for the illiterate? Get rid of the Department of Education, and get the Federal government out of our schools. Both have shown, time and time again, that they could screw up a one-car funeral! Give the responsibility for education back to the states, where it was intended to be all along.

Another Math Teacher

March 28th, 2011
8:50 pm

“Second, if I were a teacher and teaching a subject that builds (such as math or a foreign language) on what the student knows, I would pre-test on the first day – both to understand what each student knows and the breadth of competency within my class.”

I had a 10th grade Math class first semester, I made a pre test to check something that I suspected. The test consisted of addition of single digit numbers, subtraction of single digit numbers, multiplication of single digit by single digit, division of double digit numerators with single digit denominators with answers of whole numbers, remainders, and decimal.

The results:
Addition: 78% correct. (Hardest problem 9+9)
Subtraction : 67%
Multiplication: 53% (times table problems.)
Division: ranging from 23% -28%.

Many of the students failed the CRCT. They were promoted anyway. Why bother with tests if there are no consequences for failing? (The kids know they will be promoted anyway, so some do not care.)

I would expect a parent to be greatly upset and take this up with the district, but if your child gets to 10th grade and cannot add correctly…you have failed as a parent.


March 28th, 2011
9:16 pm

madaboutmath: They haven’t prostituted themselves. They have pimped US–the teachers and kids.

Dekalb parent, it doesn’t really matter what you find out when you pretest. You have to teach what they didn’t get previously as well as what they are supposed to be doing in your class. So, if you are teaching algebra, you should know that you will be teaching 3-7 grade math in addition to the algebra.

Former Middle School Teacher

March 28th, 2011
9:37 pm

Since we can legislate the parents, we legislate the teachers. Every politician is an expert on Education and they all know how to fix the problems. It comes down to desire and some children just don’t care if they excel.

just sayin'

March 28th, 2011
9:42 pm

talking out of both sides of his mouth, he is….


March 28th, 2011
10:13 pm

Obama was pandering. Out of touch with reality and his own administration, he says what he thinks the audience will like.


March 28th, 2011
10:22 pm

OK No one comments on the things we aren’t tested on like walking children quietly down the halls, single file which seems to be one of the most important crtteria at my school for an effective teacher. However, this doesn’t affect my test scores or does it??

Ticked off teacher

March 29th, 2011
7:13 am

I just love how republican nimwits get on here and talk about Obama’s outlook on education. Did you republicans not just elect Sunny Perdue and Nathan Deal. Talk about talking out of the side of your mouth. You morons just don’t get it. Obama is trying to model a German education model that gets all students either ready for a trade/vocational school/college. Every child is not given the gifts needed to be college bound. Every student doesn’t get the same support at home, or the tutor when needed. You republican voters need to wake up and smell the roses. How about instead of voting on gun rights and gay right issues, you take a look at all the other issues. Republicans want to find a way to pump money into private schools because private schools are better right? I promise you that public schools would do just as a good a job if not better if we were able to kick out every low achieving student or behavior problem. Republicans law makers love division. They want to divide the economic classes so one is always set up to do well and the other is set up to fail (sounds like the 1960s right). Only in America will voters be dumb enough to fall for that bull crap. Talk about Obama all you want to, but the only thing that Republican lawmakers have came up with is NO CHILD LEFT BEHIND and we know how that is ending up. Some of you republican cronies need to jump ship and realize that republicans are no friends to education (perdue, deal, bush). If any of you morons would have listened to any of Nathan Deals stances on education, his BUDGET and HOPE you would have realized how bad things would get if this man got elected. This is why I am taking my family and moving to a blue state. If you look stats, most of the blue states offers better education (look up the test scores), better wages for teachers, Unions that make a difference in education (yes that means some collective bargining rights), and higher graduation rates. Maybe republican leadership is what is getting in the way of GA doing what it needs to do by its students. Some of you have the nerve to talk about the President of the United States on education after electing deal. It’s too bad teachers can not teach common sense!

2 cents

March 29th, 2011
7:17 am

wow, do i have buyers remorse on voting for Obama; will not happen again

over 2 years in….

NO new education policy
NO energy policy
NO clear foreign policy
THREE front war
on top of that he may have violated his oath of office twice by not upholding the constitution
1) Obamacare
2) not consulting congress on Libya


March 29th, 2011
7:26 am

Obama is the bait and switch champ.

Inman Park Boy

March 29th, 2011
7:38 am

The elephant in the room contiunes to be the relative disparity in test scores between European-Americans and other Hyphenated-Americans. This issue needs to be squarely addressed by multiple “blue ribbon” commissions with the authority to investigate and put inplace real and workable strategies. These are cultural issues that have been ignored way too long. As a teacher, I know from experience that there is no difference in abilities (I have taught all races, all ethnic groups, all ages), just in attitudes.

Joy in Teaching

March 29th, 2011
7:50 am

@ Another Math Teacher

It is absolutely true: kids can fail the CRCT and be promoted anyways. In fact, very few are retained in middle school for failing standardized tests or for failing core subjects. Why? Because teachers are not allowed to retain them. Parents don’t want 15 year olds sitting next to their 11 year olds. Administrator types don’t want their school to be known as one of “those” schools where kids do not learn. Out of the 17 kids I have this year who are not up to grade level, I might be allowed to retain one of them because he is small.

By the way…apparently, elementary schools aren’t allowed to retain students very often either. That would explain the 85 sixth graders who were placed instead of promoted into my school this year. They’ve had social and academic problems all year. Guess what? They will also have social and academic problems next year in the seventh grade as well.


March 29th, 2011
8:00 am

@Attentive Parent,

“I don’t think he is clueless about education in the least. It’s just that he cannot be honest about the true educational agenda if he wants to be reelected in 2012.”

From the rest of your post, I don’t see what you believe the President’s true educational agenda to be. Can you state it simply?


March 29th, 2011
8:19 am

“don’t see what you believe the President’s true educational agenda to be.”

Obama has not agenda other than continuing to “fake it until he makes it” at our peril.


March 29th, 2011
8:32 am

In 2005 I taught my last reading class…It consisted of 19 males who all failed the 5th grade CRCT and were placed in 6th grade. I was the only “experienced” reading teacher on my team….Thankfully they all passed at the endof the year, but we had many working lunches!


March 29th, 2011
8:33 am

By the way…As I remembered NCLB was a pet project of Senator Ted Kennedy….

Maureen Downey

March 29th, 2011
8:43 am

@oldtimer, It was a Bush law, based on many of the testing practices that he put in place in Texas while governor there. But President Bush sought and won the support of Kennedy for his bill.

Another view

March 29th, 2011
8:53 am

And in NCLB dear Teddy wrote in that Massachusetts kids would get free trips to visit Alaska – pork buried deep within.

It was also clear upon first reading back in late 2001 that the Lake Woebegon-ish “Every child shall be proficient by 2012″ was impossible, stupid, naive and destructive (OR that it was by design to make public schooling appear ineffective to be set up for future bashing and, hence, vouchers, and Teddy was either going along with that or duped by the Carl Roves of the other party), that it would narrow instruction to the 10th percentile stuff tested on the state’s minimum competency tests, and that in order to be realized the “standards” would have to be equivalent to the 0th percentile, or every school would fail, by definition. But the math necessary to comprehend the consequences (3rd grade addition and subtraction) was over the heads our then leaders. OR, if you’re fond of conspiracy theories, they were perfectly well aware of it and looked forward to the consequences.

Attentive Parent

March 29th, 2011
9:09 am

AJ-It is to move away from academic knowledge and skills because they have inherently unequal outcomes due to differences in aptitude and genetics. Because such differences may be attributable to the home, they are deemed a product of differences in wealth, perhaps, over generations.

To close the achievement gap we must deny our strongest students access to solid academics. The purpose of school then becomes socialization in heterogeneous classrooms and using group learning tasks and activities to get children emotionally involved and concerned about various complex social problems.

And yes all the above is well-documented and deeply troublesome in its consequences.

There was some inaccurate info above on Americas Choice. There is a money trail but Americas Choice is Marc Tucker. It was previously known as the National Center on Education and the Economy and was funded by the Carnegie Foundation in the mid-1980s.

If you have a blank sheet Carnegie also funded the College Board originally.

As part of NCEE’s agenda Marc Tucker and Lauren Resnick from LRDC at U Pittsburgh start pushing national standards. The New Standards movement becomes increasingly controversial throughout the 90s as Goals 2000 and School to Work federal legislation pushes Version 1 of the nonacademic national standards vision.

New Standards is now back as the Common Core State Standards. Continuous line can be documented. Only the names change when there is a controversy in education. Never the fundamental ideas.

The controversial Certificate of Initial Mastery of the 90s just got renamed as the Career Ready Certificate. And it is very much a lucrative product of ACT.


March 29th, 2011
9:46 am

Education has become one of the largest political boondoggles around. Aspiring politicians often start by running for a place on schoolboards. Those in charge jump on the latest educational programs without finding out if these programs actually work. Tenure enables the few bad teachers out there to remain. Teachers unions are run for the benefit of the unions and not teachers and students. (This is the voice of experience speaking as I was in the AFT for 10 years.)

Each new politician from Presidents on down to local officials want to change education—but have no actual knowledge of teaching or running a classroom. All we have achieved with each new program is the dumbing down of education.

Many of us have taken standardized tests throughout our time in schools. I took tests each year in elementary and high school in the mid-60s and early 70s. We were prepared as classes were disciplined and high expectations were met. There was no teaching to the test yet most of the students exceeded the minumum requirements.

A return to teaching the basics and building on the basics is what we need today. Basic reading, writing and math are the cornerstones of a successful education for students.

All politicans, from local to national, should be required to take college level courses in education theory so that they can make more knowledgable decisions about courses of study for our students. What we have now is simply not working.


March 29th, 2011
11:03 am

It appears our teleprompter in chief has had a few focus group sessions with some 14 and 15 year olds and they conveyed the whole tests are boring but so is school so let’s go to the Mayan ruins.


March 29th, 2011
11:06 am

@Attentive Parent,

“The purpose of school then becomes socialization in heterogeneous classrooms and using group learning tasks and activities to get children emotionally involved and concerned about various complex social problems.”

1. I don’t object to any of the things you list being part of the mission of public schools. Public education has always been concerned with turning out citizens socialized to current norms and values.

2. Claims that there’s an objective of dumbing down our strongest students (”we must deny our strongest students access to solid academics”) always strike me as absurd, frankly. President Obama is an Ivy League graduate whose own children are attending a rigorous private school. Why on earth would he have a desire to keep other American kids from having a decent education, and to condemn our country to falling behind other nations in science, etc?

I can believe a claim that there’s a risk of unintended consequences with making access to education more egalitarian. I don’t believe that our leaders of either party (either Bush with NCLB or Obama today) are deliberately setting out to make Americans less educated. Claims like that just lead me to discredit all information from the source.


March 29th, 2011
11:27 am

@AJ in Cobb
Do you get your paycheck from some Carnegie Foundation fund? LOL!
Everything Attentive Parent said is correct and DOCUMENTED. See Bererly Eakman’s book “Educating for the New World Order”. It’s all there.

Attentive Parent

March 29th, 2011
11:48 am

Toto-That is not where my info comes from. I came across Eakman’s work long after I had tracked down this story when I was researching LDH’s Rand Corporation background.

I think Eakman’s Cloning of the American Mind is the better book and should be part of the arsenal of anyone concerned with American education. The Anita Hoge story is fascinating as is the amount of NAEP that is affective. America’s Report Card, indeed.

AJ- There is great political power in keeping certain racial and ethnic groups ignorant and aggrieved especially if the payroll gets covered all the same. A well informed, literate, analytical student learns to think of himself as an individual first. Groups are much easier to manipulate especially if you can foster the belief that all life’s disappointments are attributable to class or race or ethnicity.

There is also great political power in habituating students in responding from emotion. Believe me it is no fun to read organized efforts to go after the affective part of a child’s mind before they are 14 so they can change behavior.

I wish I were wrong on where this is intended to go. I understand the implications of what I am saying. That’s why it has been so critical to document first, then explain.


March 29th, 2011
1:34 pm

@Attentive Parent
In the 90’s I innocently tried to figure out what “Outcome Based Education” was, as it was being newly implemented in my county. Unfortunately for them, I like to research. I actually worked with Charlotte Iserbyt’s co-author of “Deliberately Dumbed Down” and Anita Hoge well before either book was published. I also did my own independent research and duplicated Anita Hoge’s assessment research here in Georgia. This was BEFORE the CRCT’s were rolled out. I turned all of my research over to my school board. We had some success in slowing down the takeover and throwing out OBE (they had to change its name). WWll and Benjamin Bloom (funded by rich industrialist “foundations”) were the beginning of this top-down control of public education. Let me emphasize, THE ASSESSMENTS ARE EVERYTHING!


March 29th, 2011
6:21 pm

“Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students,” said Obama.

And now, with RTTT we’ll be using tests to punish teachers! What a great step forward!