When I think about the teachers that have made an impact on my life, I remember the ones who would sit with me one-on-one outside of the classroom, helping me to understand the material. Unfortunately, I could not appreciate their patience in those moment because when I was sitting with one of my teachers, it was generally in preparation for a major test or exam. President Barack Obama announced in a Facebook video message on Oct. 24 that he has heard the complaints from students, parents and educators regarding over-testing and plans on changing our classroom environments. I hope that the Obama administration’s efforts to bring about change will be successful because as a student, I continue to see the classroom environment become less about learning for the sake of learning, and more of an unhealthy cycle of material being taught in preparation for a test.

“Teaching to the test” has become a common phrase that explains classroom environments across the U.S. Besides discouraging students from learning, it also disheartens many teachers who are forced to put innovative teaching on the backburner for the sake of test preparation. As the daughter of a New Jersey teacher and school administrator, I am well aware of the frustrations faced by educators who feel overwhelmed by the increased demands to prove student learning through rigorous standardized testing. Therefore, I feel it is high-time that our elected politicians enact a change so that we are certain that students are truly comprehending and absorbing the material, rather than regurgitating it.

One way we can do this is by limiting the amount of test time allowed in the classroom. The Huffington Post reports that in a study conducted by the Council of the Great City Schools, 2.3 percent of classroom time is consumed by actual test-taking. This does not include preparation and additional quizzes. The statistic falls just above what the Obama administration hopes to become the ideal. According to CNN, the Obama administration’s plan will seek to ensure that class time is not consumed by taking tests. The new guidelines will call for “tests that are worth taking” and that parents will be informed if more than two percent of class time is spent taking tests. I wholeheartedly agree that more monitoring must be done in the classroom. I have had some classes where every other week there is some type of assessment, so my classmates and I are constantly in a state of panic, unable to focus on what is being taught.

However, despite most of the information regarding the plan not being released until January 2016, I am skeptical as to how tests can be truly measured by “worthiness.” The Obama administration has indicated that they want to make a change, but also have a hands-off approach. I am not entirely sure that this is practical. They stated that the types of tests being taken would be given at the discretion of local districts, given that testing varies by state. While I understand that there must be provisions for regional and cultural differences, I do believe a universal standard of measurement is necessary, especially for those children who end up moving or attending new schools.

Additionally, CNN reports, “The guidelines don’t replace those that are part of No Child Left Behind, but if Congress were to alter that law and include the Obama administration’s recommendations, districts would then be required to follow them.” For those who are unfamiliar with No Child Left Behind, the act requires all public schools who receive federal funding to provide annual, statewide-standardized tests to all students under equal conditions so that every student has an equal opportunity to succeed. Some may argue that this is the largest influence of teaching to the test, but I am glad for the clarity that this particular area of testing will not be changed. These standardized tests are benchmarks that measure skill level as appropriate to age and grade. They are not as much about specific material as they are about general knowledge and there does need to be some standard for where students should be academically.

I am absolutely not opposed to giving tests to measure some level of understanding, but that is not the only way to calculate growth and knowledge. I was fortunate to attend an independent school where standardized testing was minimal, as compared to the testing in my local school district. In his video message, Obama said, “Learning is about so much more than just filling in the right bubble.” I agree wholeheartedly with his assertion. Discussion-based classes are growing more popular for higher-level education and I feel that I have personally benefited from that approach and would like to see it introduced for the majority of students, not just those who attend schools that don’t have to conform to state testing guidelines. If the Obama administration focuses and does that, as well as uses tests as a supplement rather than the only means of teaching, I believe that we will see a significant change in how students engage and perform in the classroom.

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