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Obama Calls to Curb Standardized Testing in Schools

The Obama administration believes the nation's schoolchildren are taking too many tests, and the president says hes going to fix it.
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The Obama administration believes the nation's schoolchildren are taking too many tests, and the president says he's going to fix it.

Monday, the president met with teachers and educators in the Oval Office, including outgoing Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and the nominee to replace him, John King.

Over the weekend, President Barack Obama released a Facebook video, in which he said he hears from parents "who, rightly, worry about too much testing, and from teachers who feel so much pressure to teach to a test that it takes the joy out of teaching and learning, both for them and for the students. I want to fix that."

Obama has instructed the Education Department to make sure kids are taking only high-quality tests, cap test taking time at 2 percent of classroom time and eliminate "drill-and-kill" test prep that is a poor use of students' and educators' classroom time.

The administration also admitted culpability for the problem.

A fact sheet released by the Education Department reads: "The administration bears some of the responsibility for this, and we are committed to being part of the solution."

"I thought that was a very big deal," Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, said of the White House's admission. "The president has clearly said we need to stop over-testing and stop testing misuse, and now the devil's going to be in the details in terms of making that real."

Weingarten, who represents 1.6 million educators, says it's hard to find a parent or teacher who doesn't bring up the issue of testing. She said that the testing caused teachers and kids to be stressed out and that tests were driving instruction instead of serving as an indicator of where students and teachers stood.

An average student will take an average of 112.3 tests between Pre-K and grade 12. That's 20 to 25 hours of testing a year, according to a study by the Council of the Great City Schools. The study says no one person or entity is to blame, but the assessment system is "incoherent," according to Michael Casserly, the council's executive director.

But getting rid of all testing is a bad idea, too, Casserly said, adding, "We do need good data to find which kids are falling behind."

When asked by NBC News on Monday whether all these tests are improving learning, Duncan responded: "Was every single test improving learning? No. They weren't.

"And that's why it's important to stop, to take a step back and really figure out — is it truly driving instruction in the classroom?" he said. "Is it truly helping teachers be more successful and students know what their strengths and weaknesses are and build upon them?"

The issues with educational testing date back to the No Child Left Behind law, signed by President George W. Bush in 2002. It mandated reading and math tests yearly for students to ensure proficiency in those subjects.

Related: Education experts debate high-stakes testing in public schools

However, states said meeting those goals by the deadlines were costly, were overly rigid and created a climate of tension for students and teachers.

The Obama administration introduced waivers so states could opt out of many of the requirement. Now, Congress is in the middle of rewriting education law that would essentially do away with NCLB.

The White House hopes to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a revised version of No Child Left Behind, which is currently in the conference committee process in Congress. Both the Senate and the House have passed different versions of the bill and are working to reconcile them and put that on the president's desk by year's end.

The White House hopes Congress will consider testing as legislators work to rewrite the law.

But without legislation behind this new testing policy and with new legislation still being written, it's not clear exactly how this plan will work.

"People are going to be very, very skeptical, but I think that it changes the climate, and that's really important," Weingarten said.