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Duncan announces flexibility in use of tests for evaluations

Kenneth Woods and his daughters Breanna Rosser (r) and Taylor Woods (r) reviewed 12 powerful words with sixth grade language arts teacher Patricia Hervey.
Kenneth Woods and his daughters Breanna Rosser (r) and Taylor Woods (r) reviewed 12 powerful words with sixth grade language arts teacher Patricia Hervey.
Tajuana Cheshier/ Chalkbeat TN

U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan set the education world a-Twitter Thursday morning with the announcement that his department would consider state requests to delay use of test results in teacher evaluations during the “transition” to new standards and tests in many states.

The announcement is no major news for Colorado, where the 2014 legislative passed a law allowing pretty much what Duncan is proposing.

Janelle Asmus of the Colorado Department of Education said, “Colorado has already moved in this direction. SB 165 provided this flexibility and matches what the U.S. Department of Education is providing. The secretary’s letter affirms the direction that Colorado has taken.” Asmus said Colorado doesn’t need formal federal signoff to implement the new law.

Senate Bill 14-165 requires districts to gather student growth data on teachers during this school year, but districts can choose whether or not to use it in evaluations. Districts can weight growth data anywhere from 0 to 50 percent of evaluations.

Under Colorado’s educator effectiveness law, growth is tracked by multiple measures, not just statewide tests. A low evaluation rating in 2014-15 will count toward possible future loss of non-probationary status. In 2015-16 and subsequent years evaluations would be based half on student growth and half on professional practice.

In his blog post (read it here), Duncan wrote that in talking with teachers, “Increasingly, in those conversations, I hear concerns about standardized testing. … I share these concerns.”

Duncan continued, “Assessment needs to be done wisely. No school or teacher should look bad because they took on kids with greater challenges. Growth is what matters. … The larger issue is, testing should never be the main focus of our schools. … It’s simply one measure of one kind of progress.”

The key to Duncan’s announcement was this statement: “States will have the opportunity to request a delay in when test results matter for teacher evaluation during this transition.”

That set off a flurry of comment in the education media and online. See this Huffington Post story for the national background.

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