Education Department tries to ease testing worries

Education Sec. Duncan: States can delay the use of high-stakes exams in their teacher evaluation systems

education-testingEducation Secretary Arne Duncan on Aug. 21 said that states can apply for extra time before they use student test scores to judge teachers’ performance.

Duncan’s decision is an acknowledgement of the concerns by teachers’ unions and others that it’s too early to make teacher personnel decisions based on how well students do on new assessments developed under the Common Core standards that will be used in much of the country this school year.

The move affects the more than 40 states and the District of Columbia that have a waiver around stringent parts of the No Left Behind education law. One condition the Obama administration put on obtaining a waiver was the development of a meaningful teacher evaluation system.

“The bottom line is that educators deserve strong support as our schools make vital, and urgently needed, changes,” Duncan said.

(Next page: More information about Duncan’s announcement—and its implications for schools)

There’s been a movement in recent years to end routine “satisfactory”-checked teacher evaluations and replace them with evaluations that better reflect whether students are actually learning. Evaluations can decide critical issues such as pay, tenure, firings, and the awarding of teaching licenses.

The Obama administration offered states incentives, including the waivers and Race to the Top grant money, to encourage this shift.

The same incentives also encouraged the adoption of more rigorous, college- and career-ready education standards, and Common Core fit the bill. The Common Core standards spell out what reading and math skills students should master at each grade level and have been adopted by most states.

But transitioning to the Common Core has been a huge effort, and teachers’ unions and some other education leaders have asked for more time to implement the standards effectively before the exams count toward accountability measures.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, praised Duncan’s decision.

“I’m glad he did a paean to teachers,” Weingarten said in a statement. “They never get enough respect and acknowledgement for the Herculean efforts they have made in the last few years.”

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which works to end the “misuses and flaws” of standardized testing, released a statement saying Duncan’s announcement “fails to address the real problems.”

The move “only offers to suspend testing consequences for educators, not for students and schools, even though all education stakeholders are scheduled to be evaluated by the same, unproven new exams,” the group said. “And, it offers a delay of only one year, when even the Gates Foundation proposed two years.”

© 2014, The Associated Press, with additional reporting from eSchool Media.

See also:

Top ed-tech stories to watch: Online testing looms

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