Duncan Announces 1-Year Delay on Tying Teacher Ratings to Test Results

US Secretary of Education Arne Duncan has announced that states are now able to delay using student test results in the ratings of teacher performances for another year.

Duncan said teachers needed more time to get used to the new Common Core standards and the type of testing that goes along with them, writing on his blog, "I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools."

The standards label exactly what reading and math skills students need to know by each grade level.

More than 40 states have adopted Common Core standards over the past four years. Many plan on using the performance reviews to help make decisions with teacher tenure, promotions, and firings.

Opponents claim the laws require teachers to spend their time teaching to the test rather than teaching to learn, and schools to base their curriculum around the Common Core standards.

"They should stop requiring the use of test scores in teacher evaluation altogether," said Anthony Cody, a former teacher and a founder of the Network for Public Education, a political action group. He added that the federal government should have less say in how teachers and schools operate. "Local school districts should have autonomy to figure out how best to evaluate their schools, their school districts and their teachers," he said.

Public opposition to the standards have been on the rise. Teachers went on strike in Chicago in 2012, protesting the use of test scores for performance reviews, and even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, one of the largest education donors in the country, asked for a two-year moratorium on decisions made linked to Common Core.

The new policy allows schools to delay implementation of the new evaluations, so long as the schools still gather test scores and share that information with teachers.

The policy deal only applies to those states who are switching over to the new test format this spring and have a waiver for the stricter portions of the No Child Left Behind Law. A condition of that law was to have a teacher evaluation system.

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

Public education director for the National Center for Fair and Open Testing, Bob Schaeffer, says that while the policy is a step in the right direction, more still needs to be done. Before 2002, there were only 6 federally mandated tests. Today the number has risen to 17 tests.

"The department's move today shows recognition of the growing movement protesting testing overkill," he said. "But it does not go anywhere near far enough. It postpones consequences for educators but not for students."

Others, such as president of American Federation of Teachers Randi Weingarten, praised the 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."

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