A Democratic Senator Has Decided He Wants To Smash Standardized Tests

By Published on April 22, 2015

Breaking ranks with most of his party, a Democratic senator announced he will launch an effort to eliminate current federal rules requiring states to administer annual standardized tests.

Ironically, he has the word “test” right in his name.

Sen. Jon Tester of Montana, who spent several years as a music teacher before going into politics, says that federal testing mandates are ruining education.

“Students shouldn’t be spending most of their time in school filling out bubbles,” Tester said Tuesday in a statement. “That’s not the kind of education that fosters critical thinking or creativity. Students shouldn’t be learning for the test, they should be learning for life.”

“The worst teachers I had in high school were teachers who taught to standardized tests,” he added during a conference call with reporters.

Under the current No Child Left Behind law, public schools must test their students in reading and mathematics every year in grades 3-8, as well as once more in high school. Tester says he wants this mandate repealed, and replaced with a simpler standard that required students to only be tested one time each in elementary, middle, and high school.

Tester says that local communities should decide how much testing is best.

Tester’s announcement puts him sharply at odds with President Barack Obama and other top Democrats, who argue that annual tests are crucial for maintaining accountability and for highlighting the shortcomings of low-income and minority-heavy schools. The announcement also comes at a critical time in education policy, as the Senate is currently considering a bipartisan bill written by Republican Lamar Alexander and Democrat Patty Murray which would replace NCLB. The current bill keeps annual tests as a concession to Democrats, but Tester wants to have that provision amended.

Instead of aligning with the president, Tester instead is creating alliances with some on the right. The Heritage Foundation, for instance, has called for the abolition of all federal testing mandates in any update to No Child Left Behind. Federally-mandated tests have also been attacked by Tea Party groups like FreedomWorks.

That said, Tester’s new effort isn’t bereft of allies on the left. His announcement Tuesday was accompanied by an endorsement from Lily Eskelsen Garcia, president of the National Education Association, the country’s largest teachers union.

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