Speaking Monday to a diverse audience of students and parents at a town hall hosted by Univision, the Spanish-language television network, President Barack Obama called for fewer standardized tests and said that school performance should be measured in other ways.
"Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students," the president said, from 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."
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 loftier yet 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.
In a sign of the complexity of the issue, the town hall with a heavily Hispanic audience planned by the Administration to focus public discussion on education — especially among Latinos — veered into a discussion of immigration policy as well.
When asked if he would end deportations of undocumented immigrants through the use of an executive order, Obama said that he would not. He also stated that he was against using temporary relief measures on immigration status usually conferred to countries suffering natural disasters — called TPS waivers — as a vehicle for blanket stays. Instead, he reiterated his support for passage of the Dream Act which would confer legal status to unauthorized immigrant kids brought to this country as minors.
This report is based on the Associated Press.