"Too often what we have been doing is using these tests to punish students," the president told students and parents at a town hall hosted by the Univision Spanish-language television network at 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."
"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. The girls attend the private Sidwell Friends School in Washington.
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. Congressional Republicans also look unwilling to sign off on Obama's plans to increase spending on education.