U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced today that states can postpone the use of test results in performance-based teacher evaluations for one year because of how much the new, controversial assessments have disrupted public school districts and overburdened educators.

The announcement, included in a “back-to-school” blog post on the U.S. Department of Education’s website, says that teachers and schools need more time to implement new standards and the tests aligned to those benchmarks.

No news yet on what this means, if anything, for the Hawaii Department of Education’s evaluation system, which places significant emphasis on test scores for many teachers. A department spokeswoman told Civil Beat that DOE officials will meet with stakeholders to discuss.

Online Testing Main Picture

Hawaii students will take the computerized Smarter Balanced assessments this school year. The DOE is factoring the results of these tests into high-stakes accountability systems such as teacher evaluations.

Fotolia

The Hawaii DOE recently announced that it’s making 18 major changes to the system, but these updates hardly adjust the role of test scores in teachers’ ratings. Hawaii’s public school students will take new, computerized Common Core-aligned “Smarter Balanced” assessments this spring.

Duncan, who’s long supported test-based evaluations, said his decision is based on the countless conversations he’s had with educators.

“I believe testing issues today are sucking the oxygen out of the room in a lot of schools – oxygen that is needed for a healthy transition to higher standards, improved systems for data, better aligned assessments, teacher professional development, evaluation and support, and more,” Duncan wrote. “This is one of the biggest changes education in this country has ever seen, and teachers who’ve worked through it have told me it’s allowed them to become the best teachers they’ve ever been. That change needs educators’ full attention.”

“That’s why we will be taking action in the coming weeks that give states more flexibility in key areas that teachers have said are causing worry.”

Duncan’s announcement comes just months after the Gates Foundation, a key supporter of the Common Core math and reading standards that guide the new assessments, called for a two-year moratorium on the use of test scores in high-stakes decisions such as those based off of teacher evaluations.

Hawaii is one of the nearly 40 states that factor student test performance into teacher evaluations in part because of stipulations set by the USDOE. It is also one of a handful of states to have received federal Race to the Top grants, which also prescribe test-based evaluations. (Hawaii’s four-year $75 million grant is coming to an end this year.)

Implementation of the evaluations here has been unsurprisingly rocky, in large part because of concern over the use of test scores in the teacher ratings. The evaluations affect teachers’ pay from here on out.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, encouraged states to take advantage of the waiver opportunity.

“The overtesting this administration has too often championed has sapped our students and our classrooms of the joy of learning,” she said in a statement. “We need to restore that joy now.”

The National Center for Fair and Open Testing, which opposes the over-reliance on testing in school accountability, backed Duncan’s announcement but said it “fails to address the real problems” and lamented that the delay only extends for a year.

“The Administration’s initiative is merely an attempt to buy time for the implementation of another round of counter-productive federal policies that double down on the failure of the past decade of test-and-punish programs,” the organization said in a statement.

 

About the Author