Duncan Lets States Delay Using Tests in Teacher Evaluations

August 22, 2014

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced on Thursday that states could delay the use of test results in teacher-performance ratings by another year, an acknowledgment, in effect, of the enormous pressures mounting on the nation’s teachers because of new academic standards and more rigorous standardized testing.

Using language that evoked some of his fiercest critics, Mr. Duncan wrote in a blog post, “I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools,” and he added that teachers needed time to adapt to new standards and tests that emphasize more than simply filling in bubbled answers to multiple-choice questions.

Over the past four years, close to 40 states have adopted laws that tie teacher evaluations in part to the performance of their students on standardized tests. Many districts have said they will use these performance reviews to decide how teachers are granted tenure, promoted or fired. These laws were adopted in response to conditions set by the Education Department in the waivers it granted from the No Child Left Behind law, which governs what states must do to receive federal education dollars. The test-based teacher evaluations were also included as conditions of Race to the Top grants that have been given to states by the Obama administration.

Many teachers and parents say these laws force educators to narrow their curriculums and spend too much time on test preparation. At the same time, schools have been scrambling to change their curriculums to match the Common Core, the new academic guidelines for what children should learn in math and reading from kindergarten through high school graduation. These standards were adopted by more than 40 states but have been the subject of increasing controversy.

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