Thursday, August 21, 2014

Duncan Offers Olive Branch (to teachers), and Carrot (to states)

Secretary Arne Duncan issued a statement today as schools start up around the country. 

Rather than saying how poorly our schools are doing, Duncan said this:

First, the thanks. America’s students have posted some unprecedented achievements in the last year – the highest high school graduation rate in the nation’s history, and sharp cuts in dropout rates and increases in college enrollment, especially for groups that in the past have lagged significantly. For these achievements, we should celebrate America’s teachers, principals, and students and their families. These achievements are also indications of deeper, more successful relationships with our students. All of us who’ve worked with young people know how much they yearn for adults to care about them and know them as individuals.

He even thanks teachers:

I have heard from many teachers that they have not received all the support they’d want during this transition. Yet America’s teachers are making this change work – and I want to recognize and thank them for that and encourage their leadership in this time of change.

He then talks about teachers' concerns:

Increasingly, in those conversations, I hear concerns about standardized testing.

Assessment of student progress has a fundamental place in teaching and learning – few question that teachers, schools and parents need to know what progress students are making. And few question the particular importance of knowing how our most vulnerable students are progressing. Indeed, there’s wide recognition that annual assessments – those required by federal law – have done much to shine a light on the places and groups of students most in need of help. Yet in too many places, it’s clear that the yardstick has become the focus.

There are three main issues I’ve heard about repeatedly from educators:
  1. It doesn’t make sense to hold them accountable during this transition year for results on the new assessments – a test many of them have not seen before – and as many are coming up to speed with new standards.
  2. The standardized tests they have today focus too much on basic skills, not enough on critical thinking and deeper learning.
  3. Testing – and test preparation – takes up too much time.
I share these concerns. And I want our department to be part of the solution.

To those who are reading the last sentence with surprise, let me be clear: assessment is a vital part of teaching and learning, but it should be one part (and only one part) of how adults hold themselves responsible for students’ progress.

Bottom line:

 States will have the opportunity to request a delay in when test results matter for teacher evaluation during this transition. As we always have, we’ll work with them in a spirit of flexibility to develop a plan that works, but typically I’d expect this to mean that states that request this delay will push back by one year (to 2015-16) the time when student growth measures based on new state assessments become part of their evaluation systems – and we will work with states seeking other areas of flexibility as well.

And we also need to recognize that in many places, the sheer quantity of testing – and test prep – has become an issue. In some schools and districts, over time tests have simply been layered on top of one another, without a clear sense of strategy or direction. Where tests are redundant, or not sufficiently helpful for instruction, they cost precious time that teachers and kids can’t afford. Too much testing can rob school buildings of joy, and cause unnecessary stress. This issue is a priority for us, and we’ll continue to work throughout the fall on efforts to cut back on over-testing.

He even says this:

And in fact, most teachers and principals I talk with want to be held responsible for students’ progress through a sensible, smart combination of factors that reflect their work with students – not the level students came in at, or factors outside of their control.

Growth is what matters. No teacher or school should be judged on any one test, or tests alone – always on a mix of measures – which could range from classroom observations to family engagement indicators.

I’m concerned, too, when I see places where adults are gaming tests, rather than using them to help students.

I like part of this but not all of it (guess which part I don't like):

I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools – oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support, and more.

Yes, that "improved systems for data" is benign and who could argue against it?  The devil is in the details.  What data?  Who sees it?  Who is protecting it?  What is it used for?

Of course he ends - naturally - with an ed reform canard: Change is hard. 

Noted education writer, Anthony Cody at his blog, Living in Dialog, has this analysis.  About the year's delay on using test scores for teacher evaluation:

This reflects, once again, that the Department of Ed is closely listening to the Gates Foundation, which called for such a moratorium just two months ago. It is an acknowledgement of the fast-growing rejection of Common Core and associated tests, and in particular, an effort to shore up support among teachers by providing some level of reassurance that they will not be punished immediately by these tests.

On growth measures:
To be clear, ever since Race to the Top and the NCLB waivers came along, federal policy has REQUIRED states to make test scores a significant part – which has been interpreted to mean at least 30% — of a teacher’s evaluation.

His overall assessment?

This kind of talk is cheap. The real question is how federal policies that promote teaching to the test will change. 

But a one year deferral does not do much to fundamentally alter the systemic change that is under way. The new Common Core tests are still being rolled out and will be given this coming spring. This only amounts to a one year delay to the time when those scores will be used for evaluative purposes.


Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, the carrot being offered to states (i.e., a one-year delay in implementing teacher evaluations based on state test scores) will not affect Washington. The state has received word that their extension request is still denied since the state has not committed to using state test scores at all.

Also, I don't believe the language in the waivers requires that student tests scores be a significant factor in teacher evaluation. I know for sure that language was in the Race to the Top application. I just don't think it's required for waivers.

--- swk

Just Saying.. said...

Washington State is spending millions of dollars to tell parents that their schools are failing because of the NCLB waiver and test scores. Meanwhile, Duncan offers delay in using test scores in teacher evaluations. Nuts.

dan dempsey said...


WA schools are failing so that is why the letters need to be sent out. Total BS.

Looking at NAEP scores, WA is doing quite well. Much better than most states.

Please correct me if I am wrong about the following.

Yet states doing far worse are not sending out letters, because they have NCLB waivers.

WA has no waiver because of not committing to use Test Scores in teacher evaluation.

Perhaps the letter sent home should state the real reason for the letter. WA's failure to comply with absurd "top down mandates".

Arne has no rational reason based on the intelligent application of relevant data for most of his actions. It's all politics.

Gerry Pollet said...

Hypocrites: US Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Seattle Times editorial board RE Standardized Tests:

Duncan made a major announcement on August 21st that all states would be able to waive use of the new, unproven, standardized test scores in teacher evaluation. This was widely covered in the NY Times and national media, but not one peep about this in the Seattle Times. Instead the Times editorialized on Sunday August 24 about how awful it is that legislators refused to be blackmailed into mandatory use of standardized test scores by the loss of a waiver for $40 million to districts in Washington.

Does the Times point out Duncan’s hypocrisy in making a major announcement that states will be granted waivers, while he continues to deny Washington schools a waiver? NO. (Read his statement above, and judge for yourself if there is any reason why our State should be the only one in the US to lose its waiver for use of funds).

Did the Times ever editorially support a penny of funding for schools this past year from the $1 BILLION in loophole closures passed by the House? No. that is $1 Billion for schools versus $40 million.
Read more here:

Anonymous said...

We know the Seattle Times (and Frank Blethen) hates public schools, teachers, teacher unions, and anything that helps poor people succeed. It is hardly surprising they would not point out the hypocrisy in Arne Duncan's blather. Besides, that would require a bit of critical thought and analysis, something the Times is completely incapable of.