Education Secretary Arne Duncan recently gave a speech to the American Educational Research Association Annual Meeting in San Francisco, California. His remarks addressed the issue of testing, specifically with Common Core implementation becoming ever more imminent.
Here are some excerpts from the speech:
With federal support, 44 states plus DC are part of two large state consortia that are designing a new generation of assessments to better measure the higher-order thinking skills so vital to success in a knowledge-based, global economy.
A sea-change is underway in the state of assessment in the U.S. that few predicted in 2009. As Linda Darling-Hammond noted recently, “The question for policymakers has shifted from, ‘Can we afford assessments of deeper learning?’ to, ‘Can the United States afford not to have such high-quality assessments?’”
On Standardized Tests:
I think we can generally agree that standardized tests don’t have a good reputation today—and that some of the criticism is merited. Policymakers and researchers have to listen very carefully—and take very seriously the concerns of educators, parents, and students about assessment.
Many current state assessments tend to focus on easy-to-measure concepts and fill-in-the-bubble answers. Results come back months later, usually after the end of the school year, when their instructional usefulness has expired.
And today’s assessments certainly don’t measures qualities of great teaching that we know make a difference—things like classroom management, teamwork, collaboration, and individualized instruction. They don’t measure the invaluable ability to inspire a love of learning.
Schools today give lots of tests, sometimes too many. It’s a serious problem if students’ formative experiences and precious time are spent on assessments that aren’t supporting their journey to authentic college- and career-readiness.
In short, I agree with much of the critique of today’s tests. Now, the essential question is where do we go from here?
Despite the flaws of today’s tests, we can’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. I don’t believe that the problems of assessing student growth are so unsolvable that we should take a pass on measuring growth—or bar the consideration of student progress in learning from teacher evaluation.
Standardized assessments are still a needed tool for transparency and accountability across the entire education system. We should never, ever return to the days of concealing achievement gaps with school averages, no-stakes tests, and low standards.
The fact is that no one is more damaged by weak accountability measures than our most vulnerable students. We must reliably measure student learning, growth, and gain.
On Teacher Evaluations:
I have said repeatedly and consistently that teacher evaluation should never, ever be based only on test scores. Just as Campbell urged, it should always include multiple, albeit imperfect measures, like principal observation or peer review, performance-based assessments, student work, student surveys, and parent feedback.
I’m not just giving lip service to using multiple measures for accountability. I’ve always been convinced it is the best way to go.
All 35 states we have approved for waivers to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act are required to use multiple measures to evaluate teachers, and 33 of the states are including individual student growth.
States with waivers are also including multiple indicators for school accountability. Twenty-seven states are using their flexibility to include measures that go far beyond the reading, math, and graduation rates required under No Child Left Behind in their accountability systems.
On the U.S. in comparison to global benchmark testing:
The U.S. should never adopt the practice of high-performers who use high-stake tests to track students. I absolutely reject that mindset. But we can learn a great deal about how to do assessment from our high-performing competitors.
Whether it is Singapore’s PSLE and GCE assessments, China’s GaoKao college entrance exam, the French “bac,” South Korea’s CSAT, Germany’s Abitur, or the British A-levels, assessments linked to high standards propel good instruction and higher-order learning around the world.
In virtually all of these high-flying systems, teachers and students spend lots of time preparing and studying for these gateway assessments. In fact, rigorous assessments actually take more time to complete than today’s bubble tests, many of which just measure basic skills.
Yet test preparation for assessments in these nations is not so much time out from learning but rather part of the learning process itself. It provides valuable learning opportunities and feedback for instruction.
High-performing countries tend to have assessments that are worth teaching to—and that is a core aim of the Race to the Top Assessment competition.
On Testing for Common Core:
The next generation of assessment systems includes diagnostic or formative assessments, not just end-of-the-year summative assessments. The two state consortia must assess student achievement of standards, student growth, and whether students are on-track to being college and career-ready. And the new assessment systems must be effective, valid, and instructionally useful.
As I listen and meet with teachers across the country, I never hear them say that they want to get rid of assessments—or give up on assessing student growth in their classrooms.
In fact, the overwhelming majority of teachers hunger for good assessments that ask students to demonstrate what they have learned—whether it is writing a persuasive essay, solving complex problems, or working collaboratively.
The new assessments from the consortia will be a vast improvement on assessment as it is done today.
The PARCC consortium, for example, will evaluate students’ ability to read complex texts, complete research projects, excel at classroom speaking and listening assignments, and work with digital media.
The Smarter Balanced consortium will assess students using computer adaptive technology that will ask students questions pitched to their skill level, based on their previous answers. And a series of optional interim evaluations during the school year will inform students, parents, and teachers about whether students are on track.
The use of smarter technology in assessments will also change instruction in ways that teachers welcome.
Technology makes it possible to assess students by asking them to design products or experiments, to manipulate parameters, run tests, and record data. Problems can be situated in real-world environments, where students perform tasks or include multi-stage scenarios and extended essays.
I have no doubt that Assessment 2.0 will help educators drive the development of a richer curriculum at the state, district, and local level, differentiated instruction tailored to individual student needs, and multiple opportunities during the school year to assess student learning.
As I have said before, I believe this new generation of assessments—combined with the adoption of internationally-benchmarked, college and career-ready standards—is an absolute game-changer for American education.
When the two consortia roll out their new assessments in the 2014-15 school year, they will be a work in progress. I’m sure not everything will go according to schedule. There will be glitches. There will be mistakes. But we cannot let the perfect become the enemy of the good.
Assessment 2.0 will need lots of work to get to version 2.1 and 2.2. I expect that states and districts will improve implementation as they learn from pilots and field tests. And teachers will play an absolutely critical role in telling us what works and what doesn’t work.
In conclusion, I think policymakers, school leaders, educators, and researchers must remain open and committed to dramatically improving assessment.
And we must also remain open to what our best research shows about high-quality assessment—even when the results are unexpected.
In the long run, I believe that Assessment 3.0 will include assessments that do even more to personalize learning, and will accelerate the shift from seat-based learning to competency-based learning.
For the full text of the speech, please visit: