Duncan Offers Flexibility On Testing and Evaluations During Common Core Transition

With the transition to the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) speeding up, states are faced with the prospect of having to “double-test” their students in 2013-14 – administering both the new field test tied to the CCSS and the statewide standardized test. On Tuesday, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan responded to the concerns of educators across the country by announcing a waiver that would free students of this burden and allow states to give only one end-of-year test. Duncan is also inviting the 37 states that have gotten waivers from parts of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act to apply for a delay in using high-stakes tests to evaluate teachers.

“We want to support states that would like to avoid double-testing, which as you know often happens during the shift to a new test,” Duncan said in a letter addressed to chief state school officers.

About the delay in new teacher evaluations, Duncan said, “Given the move to college- and career-ready standards, the dramatic changes in curricula that teachers and principals are now starting to teach, and the transition to new assessments aligned to those standards, the Department will consider, on a state-by-state basis, allowing states up to one additional year before using their new evaluation systems to inform personnel determinations.”

Duncan’s move is widely seen as an acknowledgment that, with the rapid implementation of the Common Core, too much is changing too soon. Tuesday’s announcement is undoubtedly welcome news to schools that are feeling the pressure from the transition.

While many teachers have embraced the higher standards of the CCSS, Duncan heard from educators and a number of state officials who told him it was important to hold off on the consequences for teachers and principals while they come up to speed.

“These concerns are real and honest,” Duncan said. States can delay high-stakes testing consequences for up to one year until 2016-17.

To avoid  “double-testing,” the Department of Education will allow schools to administer only one assessment in 2013-14 – either the current statewide assessment or the Common Core field test.

National Education Association President Dennis Van Roekel said the announcement was a “step in the right direction.” The NEA has long been calling for an end to high-stake testing consequences, particularly during the Common Core transition period.

“We applaud the Department of Education for this common-sense flexibility that will allow educators and students to focus primarily on teaching and learning rather than high-stakes standardized tests. This flexibility will ensure that as new and better assessments are being field tested and piloted, students are not forced to take outdated state tests as well. Without this flexibility, students will be wasting precious time taking unnecessary tests.

“We must take the necessary time to get it right.”