"The current, once-a-year, high-stakes, multiple-choice testing isn't working for students, parents or teachers," he told a crowd of more than 300 people at George Mason University's Arlington campus, to rousing applause.
Under the current system, a fifth-grade teacher who raises a child from a first-grade reading level to a fourth-grade reading level is considered a failure, he said. Teachers who want to break up the test into smaller portions, or test at different levels based on student achievement should be encouraged, he said.
McAuliffe also said he would establish a "blue-ribbon commission" to study the content of the tests. Students and teachers have said that the facts on the test don't always align with the concepts that are important to know.
"It's good if a child knows the date we landed on the moon," McAuliffe said. "But it's much better if the child knows about the Space Race, NASA and the Apollo Program."
The candidate also said the state should move to "progress-based data, instead of simplistic, end-of-the-year, one-time data" when measuring student and teacher success.
[More: Northern Virginia Democrats See Turnout as Key in 2013 Governor's Race]
That's just one nugget of McAullffe's education platform, which he focused on in his Arlington stop. He also talked about partnering high schools with local community colleges, restoring state investment in schools that has been passed on to local jurisdictions in recent years, and recruiting and retaining quality teachers.
The state, too, should reduce teachers' non-instructional workloads, so they can do what they do best: teach, he said. He also pledged to increase support for preschool and early-childhood development, lumping the two items together as "no-brainers."
The Arlington stop marked the end of McAuliffe's five-day tour around the state in which he's delivered his platform not just on education, but on transportation, job creation, making the state more business-friendly and supporting the large military presence in this state.
The tour, too, has been a chance for the campaign to show off Terry McAuliffe 2.0. The former Democratic National Committee chairman and Clinton confidant once known for shooting from the hip now trusts his holsters more, it seems. He comes across as more polished and noticeably more moderate than the man who made a gubernatorial run four years ago.
McAuliffe was joined on stage by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, a Democrat and former governor himself. The pairing perhaps was symbolic, considering many Democrats wanted Warner to make an attempt to return to the Governor's Office this year. He declined.
"There is no job more important than being 'His Excellency, the Governor of the Commonwealth,' " Warner said, alluding to the title he enjoyed when he was the state's chief executive.
"And in this race, the choice couldn't be more clear."
McAuliffe did not take questions from the media after Thursday's event. A campaign staffer said he was "very busy" and had "things to do," but couldn't name a single item on his itinerary.