Friday, August 22, 2014

Duncan Listens to Gates, Offers One Year Delay on New Test Consequences

Here it comes. Two months ago the Gates Foundation called for a pause in Common Core testing. More recently Gene Wilhoit signaled a change in policy relative to testing. Arne Duncan is now trying to weasel himself out of virtually every statement he's ever made about education reform. And Monday, Terry Holliday is set to make a major announcement on state curriculum. Gee whiz. Could this have anything to do with Common Core losing the public relations battle nationally?

Remember President Clinton's effort to create voluntary national social studies standards? When they were attacked and became unpopular, the policy changed and they went away.

This from Living in Dialogue:
His Master's Voice
After five years at his post, Secretary Duncan indicates he is now “listening to teachers on testing.” His statement, released this morning, offers a thorough repudiation of teaching to the test, but little substance regarding federal policies, beyond offering states the chance to request a year’s delay in the use of scores from new tests on teacher evaluations. [note: the headline on Duncan's post has been changed to "A Back to School Conversation with Teachers and School Leaders."]
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.
There was a shift in tone, however.

For the first time, instead of starting out complaining about how far behind our schools are, Duncan begins with praise.
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.
He goes on to acknowledge the concerns he has heard about testing. These concerns have been raised loudly since he first arrived in office in 2009 – he has made similar statements in the past, condemning teaching to the test. But his policies have not changed.
We have the usual slippery language:
Federal policy rightly stays out of picking those individual measures, but ensures that in evaluating teachers, states and districts include student growth, and consider multiple 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.

The news that educator support for Common Core is dropping like a stone has the Department of Education looking for ways to stem the tide. Being able to point to teacher support has been one of the most important lines of defense for the beleaguered project. And while this past year was supposed to be the time when educators would become more familiar and knowledgeable about the standards, that familiarity has apparently bred contempt.

And there is a well-founded fear that new tests aligned with CC will make things much worse, as we have seen in states like Kentucky and New York, where CC aligned tests sent proficiency levels down to about 30%.

Much of this statement repeats rhetoric we have heard before. Duncan said in 2010, “Don’t teach to the test.” And then the magic of “multiple measures” was supposed to make the pressure go away. These kind of statements are meaningless when federal policy mandates the use of test scores for teacher evaluations and the closing of schools.

This kind of talk is cheap. The real question is how federal policies that promote teaching to the test will change. The bottom line is contained in this paragraph:
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.
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.
Duncan makes it clear that the purpose of this delay is to allow for a successful transition to the new standards, testing and evaluation systems. There is actually no real change in any of the substance of any of these programs, and he reiterates the Department’s commitment to the new tests.
If Duncan is serious in his concern about tests that are “sucking the oxygen” out of schools, he should begin to listen to teachers when they tell him to stop using these tests for their evaluations and to close schools. Until then, test scores will continue to rob children of the vital learning environments they need, and teachers will continue to object.

What do you think? Is Duncan’s statement cause for celebration?

And this from Curmudgucation:
Duncan is shocked-- shocked!!-- that anyone would think it's a good idea to make a high stakes test the measure of student achievement or teacher effectiveness.  "Growth is what matters. No teacher or school should be judged on any one test, or tests alone –" And here comes the vertiginous woozies (dibs on this as a band name) again, because that would be a heartening quote if it did not come from the very same office which decreed that by order of the federal government high stakes tests must be used as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness. Duncan is talking about this test-based evaluation of students and teachers as if it just spontaneously occurred, like some sort of weird virus suddenly passed around at state ed department sleepover camp, and not a rule that Duncan's office demanded everyone follow. Has Duncan forgotten that he just made the entire state of Washington declare itself a Failing School Disaster Zone precisely because they refused to use high stakes tests as a measure of student achievement and teacher effectiveness? 


Anonymous said...

Dear Mr. Gates,

May American's be allowed to walk their dogs on Tuesday nights or each ice cream if they have not done their chores that day?

Richard Innes said...


After the last two weeks of Terry Holliday's blog fussing about federal intrusion into Kentucky's education business, including forcing testing down our throats with a new waiver from NCLB, I don't think Duncan is really listening to Gates. Am I missing something new?

Richard Day said...

Remember, at heart, education reform during the Bush and Obama administrations has been tied deeply with business interests. Some thought that businesses products and schools products were enough alike that the same principles should apply. Others were (and are) more focused on how they might profit from expanded public school markets - everything from curriculum to tests to charters and vouchers to public/private partnerships and outsourcing...

At the beginning of the Obama administration it was pretty clear that all funding to support school improvement was coming from the same philosophical camp - Gates (and others like Broad, Walton...) and Obama. The present case is one of post hoc ergo propter hoc. Gates advised relaxing the timeline for implementation and Duncan followed. I'm not sure who's following whom. But clearly, these are coordinated efforts. And you can count on Wilhoit and Holliday being in some of the conversations.