The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, which has spent at least $150 million funding the new Common Core State Standards, is asking states and school districts to take a two-year moratorium before factoring the standards and accompanying standardized tests into “high-stakes” decisions.

The Common Core is a new set of rigorous reading and math standards developed by a group of governors and education experts five years ago that was originally adopted by 46 states and Washington, D.C., including Hawaii. The number of states embracing Common Core has since dropped to 42. Hawaii is still part of that group.

Participating states have also implemented new standardized tests that align with the standards. Hawaii is among the nearly two dozen states that’s chosen to adopt a test known as Smarter Balanced. The Hawaii Department of Education piloted the Smarter Balanced tests at some schools last school year and is using them as the state’s standardized assessments this upcoming year.

Student testing

Student testing

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But amid outcry, both nationally and locally, over what critics have described as its overly rushed implementation, the Gates Foundation published a letter today discouraging Common Core adopters from using assessment results “in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation or student promotion for the next two years, during this transition.”

“Even the best new ideas aren’t self-fulfilling; they have to be put into practice wisely,” wrote Vicki Phillips, the foundation’s education director. “The standards need time to work. Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests, and offer their feedback. Applying assessment scores to evaluations before these pieces are developed would be like measuring the speed of a runner based on her time – without knowing how far she ran, what obstacles were in the way, or whether the stopwatch worked!”

The delay, she wrote, will allow teachers the time, tools and support they need to understand and implement the Common Core standards.

American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weigarten, who called for a similar moratorium back in April 2013, echoed the foundation’s announcement.

“The Gates Foundation’s call for a delay of the high-stakes consequences attached to the Common Core State Standards tests responds to the very real frustration of parents and educators over a badly mismanaged implementation of the standards—ignoring the real needs of kids, failing to provide the supports for teaching to the standards, and fixating on testing instead of teaching,” she wrote in a statement today. “The Common Core standards are too important not to get them right. If states and school districts focus on a quality rollout rather than a rush to test, we can make sure students get a deeper, richer curriculum that will prepare them well. Tests should be used to improve teaching and learning, not to sanction and punish.”

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