Education Department tries to ease testing worries

August 21, 2014 - 3:05 PM
Testing Teacher Evaluation

FILE - this July 7, 2014 file photo shows Education Secretary Arne Duncan speaking at the White House in Washington. Duncan said Thursday that states can apply for extra time before they use student test scores to judge teachers' performance. Duncan's decision acknowledges concerns by teachers' unions and others that it's too early to make teacher personnel decisions based on how well students do on new assessments developed under the Common Core standards that will be used in much of the country this school year. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Education Secretary Arne Duncan said Thursday that states can apply for extra time before they use student test scores to judge teachers' performance.

Duncan's decision is an acknowledgement of the concerns by teachers' unions and others that it's too early to make teacher personnel decisions based on how well students do on new assessments developed under the Common Core standards that will be used in much of the country this school year.

The move affects the more than 40 states and the District of Columbia that have a waiver around stringent parts of the No Left Behind Law. One condition the Obama administration put on obtaining a waiver was the development of a meaningful teacher evaluation system.

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

There's been a movement in recent years to end routine "satisfactory"-checked teacher evaluations and replace them with evaluations that better reflect whether students are actually learning. Evaluations can decide critical issues such as pay, tenure, firings and the awarding of teaching licenses.

The administration offered incentives, including the waivers and Race to the Top grant money, which contributed to the shift.

The same incentives also encouraged the adoption of career and college ready standards, and Common Core fit the bill. The Common Core standards spell out what reading and math skills students should master at each grade and have been adopted by most states.

As the two efforts roll out, it's created hiccups.

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, praised Duncan's 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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Kimberly Hefling can be followed at http://twitter.com/khefling