Students in Large Cities Make Progress

America’s big cities have long been beacons of promise and opportunity. Yet too often, big-city school systems have failed to equalize educational opportunity or truly prepare our young people to compete in a knowledge-based, global economy.  In large cities, more than a third of all teens fail to graduate on time, and high school dropouts have few opportunities as adults to find rewarding work to sustain a family.

That’s why the results of the National Assessment of Educational Progress’s new study, examining educational performance in big cities, are encouraging.

Math GraphicToday, the National Assessment Governing Board released the results of the 2013 Trial Urban District Assessment (TUDA). It found that student performance in large cities continues to improve overall, and that large-city schools nationwide are improving at a faster pace than the nation as a whole.

That progress is welcome, especially since large-city districts typically have higher concentrations of Black or Hispanic students, low-income students, and English language learners than the nation as a whole.

To be clear, a lot of work lies ahead to close achievement gaps in our largest cities. But here’s the good news: in 2013, tens of thousands of additional students in large cities are Proficient or above in math and reading than was the case four years earlier. And three districts that pressed ahead with ambitious reforms — the DC Public Schools System (DCPS), Los Angeles, and Fresno — made notable progress since 2011.

In comparison to 2009, 44,000 more students scored at or above Proficient in 4th grade math in large cities in 2013; 34,000 more students scored at or above Proficient in 4th grade reading; 20,000 more students scored at or above Proficient in 8th grade math; and 28,000 more students scored at or above Proficient in 8th grade reading.

This progress is a credit to the hard work of teachers, principals, other school staff members, parents, and students themselves.

Signs of progress on the TUDA are especially compelling because they cannot be attributed to teaching to the test or testing irregularities, such as cheating.

DCPS students made substantial gains in both fourth and eighth grade in reading and mathematics. And students in Los Angeles and Fresno—two of the CORE districts participating in district-based waivers to the No Child Left Behind Law–also made notable progress since 2011.

Fresno was the only district in the TUDA to report a significant decrease in the achievement gap in math and reading (in eighth grade) from 2009 to 2013 between students eligible for free- and reduced-price lunch programs and better-off students, who didn’t qualify for free- and reduced-price lunch.

The spoiler in this picture of slow and steady progress is the failure to meaningfully close racial achievement gaps in our large-city schools nationwide since 2009. Tens of thousands of students still lack the opportunities they deserve—and that opportunity gap is painfully at odds with the promise of equal opportunity in America.

Yet the TUDA results also tell us that leadership, vision, and a commitment to get better matter tremendously in big-city school districts.

A large performance gap persists between students in higher-performing cities, like Charlotte, Hillsborough County, and Austin, and students in Detroit and Cleveland, the two lowest-performing districts.

Those city-to-city gaps in performance provide a great opportunity for lower-performing districts to learn from higher-performing districts–and for districts where performance has stagnated to learn from rapidly-improving districts, like the District of Columbia Public School system.

I’m encouraged by the progress students overall are making in big cities. But it is time now to dramatically accelerate the pace of progress, not just in our big cities but in our nation as a whole. An opportunity for a world-class education should be the birthright of every student, no matter what their zip code.

Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

Duncan Calls for Higher Standards and Expectations Following PISA Results

Duncan and Students at PISA Release

Secretary Arne Duncan talks with students during today’s event announcing the 2012 PISA results.

Do schools in the United States ask enough of students?

Based on the results of a major new international report, and conversations surrounding its release today, the answer is no.

Every three years, hundreds of thousands of 15-year-olds in more than 65 global economies take the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). The results provide a snapshot of how students in the U.S. compare to students around the globe. Earlier today, the 2012 PISA results were announced and Secretary Arne Duncan was on hand with Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Secretary-General Angel Gurria to discuss the results and what it means for education in America.

Duncan explained that results for the U.S. are “straightforward and stark: It is a picture of educational stagnation.” However, this is not to say that the U.S. hasn’t made any progress since the 2009 PISA. In the last three years, 700,000 fewer students are in high school dropout factories, college enrollment is up—especially among Hispanics—and the 2013 National Assessment of Educational Progress showed us that reading and math scores for 4th and 8th graders are up nationally to new highs.

Duncan also talked with a group of foreign exchange students from several countries, in a conversation moderated by author Amanda Ripley. The students said that schools in the United States did not expect as much of students as those in their home countries.

In his remarks, Duncan reminded those at today’s release that the America’s stagnation evident in the PISA results “must serve as a wake-up call against educational complacency and low expectations.”

The PISA results give evidence of America’s troubling achievement gaps, and Duncan acknowledged that we must do better on closing what he calls the “opportunity gap.” “The only way to increase social mobility and strengthen the middle class is through high-quality education,” he said.

But today’s results also show that while white 15-year-olds in the U.S. do better on average than students of color, our white students are still lagging behind the world’s top performers.

So the real educational challenge in America is not just about poor kids in poor neighborhoods. It’s about many kids in many neighborhoods. The PISA results underscore that educational shortcomings in the U.S. are not just the problems of other people’s children.

To correct this, Duncan said that we must invest in early learning, redesign high schools, raise standards and support great teachers.

Read the full version of Secretary Duncan’s remarks, learn more about the PISA results, and watch the video below.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

Help ED Improve How We Evaluate State Assessment Systems

We are in the midst of an important shift in K-12 education. Nearly all states are beginning to implement college- and career-ready content standards and are in the process of developing new aligned assessment systems to measure whether their students have the knowledge and critical skills they need to be ready for tomorrow’s jobs. These new systems are in direct response to educators and parents asking for assessments that are more than just “bubble tests,” and provide better information to inform and improve teaching and learning in our classrooms. Do you have ideas for how ED should evaluate states’ assessment systems? Do you have thoughts on how we should support states during a time of transition to new, higher standards? We are asking for your input between now and September 30, 2013.

As required by the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), ED reviews and approves certain state assessments through panels of peer experts. More information about ED’s process is available here. This peer review process has been instrumental in helping states improve the reliability of their assessment systems and the accessibility of these assessments for all students, including students with disabilities and English learners. But in order to keep up with the new and more robust demands of what high-quality assessments need to be able to do, on December 21, 2012, ED suspended this peer review process in order to update it to align with the vision of what high-quality assessments should be. Specifically, in ESEA Flexibility, ED defined a high-quality assessment as one “that is valid, reliable, and fair for its intended purposes; and measures student knowledge and skills against college- and career-ready standards in a way that:

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Duncan Discusses Influence of Teacher Voice on New Flexibility Decision

Today, Secretary Duncan announced that ED is offering states flexibility around high stakes personnel decisions and double testing—a decision greatly influenced by educators’ voices.

His decision addresses two areas. First, states will be able to ask for an extra year beyond current plans for teacher evaluation systems before data from new assessments impacts personnel decisions for educators.

Second, during next school year (2013-2014), some schools will field test new assessments. ED will work with states to avoid double-testing students. Over-testing is a very real concern, and schools participating in the field test will receive the option to administer only one assessment in 2013-2014 to any given student— either the current statewide assessment or the field test.

Dan Brown, a Teaching Ambassador Fellow (TAF), interviewed Secretary Duncan on his decision.


Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Secretary Duncan’s decision doesn’t come out of the blue. In fact, it was significantly influenced by discussions with teachers around the country. As full-time TAFs, teachers on temporary release from our schools to bring teacher perspective to federal policy-makers, we were literally at the table— and consistently asked to provide educator voice to the high level discussions being held.

In the interest of hearing and elevating teachers’ voices, the 12 members of our TAF team (six full-time Fellows and six part-time Classroom Fellows) traveled to 34 states over the past year and held discussions with well over 4,000 teachers. Teachers, who are the actual implementers for these reforms, are uniquely positioned to offer candid, authentic advice about how to make these urgently needed reforms work best for students.

As Arne describes in the video, we heard from teachers over and over about the unprecedented level of change and reform going on throughout the country as states transition to new standards, new assessments, and new teacher evaluation systems.

Overwhelmingly, we heard support from teachers around the country for raising standards that will ensure students can compete in the global economy. At the same time however, we also heard widespread concern that teachers need time, models, and quality professional development to teach to the new standards effectively. In states where there is a strong commitment to collaboration, teachers feel more empowered, supported, and positive about the current state of reform efforts.

From our vantage point, we believe that the Department and Secretary Duncan are committed to learning from educators. This offer of flexibility reflects the Department’s responsiveness to teachers’ voices. Whether states request the flexibility or not, we hope that we all hear the needs expressed by teachers across the country to make this significant transition sustainably, with room and support for innovation and cycles of professional learning.

Cynthia Apalinski, Jennifer Bado-Aleman, Dan Brown, Kareen Borders, Lisa Clarke, and Marciano Gutierrez are the 2012-2013 Full-Time Teaching Ambassador Fellows at the U.S. Department of Education.

New Flexibility for States Implementing Fast-Moving Reforms: Laying Out Our Thinking

Over the last four years, states and school districts across America have embraced an enormous set of urgent challenges with real courage: raising standards to prepare young people to compete in the global economy, developing new assessments, rebuilding accountability systems to meet the needs of each state and better serve at-risk students, and adopting new systems of support and evaluation for teachers and principals. Meeting this historic set of challenges all at once asks more of everybody, and it’s a tribute to the quality of educators, leaders, and elected officials across this country that so many have stepped up.
Secretary Duncan talking with student

One crucial change has been the state-led effort to voluntarily raise standards. That effort dates back to 2006, when a bipartisan core of leaders – governors, state superintendents, business people — came together because they recognized that America’s students needed to be prepared to compete in a global economy that demanded more than basic skills. They began a movement that has ended up with nearly every state adopting standards that reflect the knowledge and skills young people actually need to succeed in college and careers. Especially in communities where students historically have not been held to high standards, this state-led push is nothing less than a civil rights issue.

To put student learning squarely at the center of school decisions, states agreed to evaluate principals and teachers based in part on student growth, as measured by test scores, along with measures like principal observation, peer review, feedback from parents and students, and classroom work. These commitments became part of waiver agreements that have helped states dispense with the most broken parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.

The US Department of Education also provided $350 million to two consortia of states to develop online assessments, benchmarked to the new standards, which will improve significantly on today’s “bubble tests.” All but a few states have agreed to implement these new evaluation systems by the 2015-16 school year.

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Choosing the Right Battles

Education researchers play an invaluable role in formulating policy, from preschool to grad school, Secretary Arne Duncan told the attendees of the American Educational Research Association (AERA) annual meeting in San Francisco this week where he laid out a vision for where assessment is going, and engaged researchers on the role they play in improving education. “You are the experts. You are the independent truth-tellers,” he said.

Duncan’s speech to AERA examined the major issues facing students, educators, policymakers, and other stakeholders in today’s education environment. Duncan noted that the role of the independent expert is not at odds with asking hard questions about the practical implications of research, as well as assisting practitioners to improve education outcomes. “Rigor is necessary but not sufficient. Relevance matters,” Duncan said.

In an effort to make education research more relevant, Duncan challenged the research community to consider two items:

  1. To do a more complete job of asking comparative questions in research and evaluation.
  2. To remain open to findings that contradict or compel a rethinking of the conventional wisdom.

Secretary Duncan also addressed standardized assessments, saying they are still a needed tool for transparency and accountability. “We should never, ever return to the days of concealing achievement gaps with school averages, no-stakes tests, and low standards,” he said. “A new generation of high-quality assessments must be a cornerstone of America regaining its educational leadership. And researchers, with rigor and relevance, must help lead forth that effort.”

Read the full text of Duncan’s speech: Choosing the Right Battles: Remarks and a Conversation.

New Report Continues the Dialogue on Testing Integrity

Academic assessment plays an important role in making decisions about the education of our children. We — parents, educators, and administrators — all depend on valid and reliable data. Yet a series of high-profile cheating incidents over the last several years has raised concerns about the integrity of those testing data. And even though every state has made an effort to prevent cheating, states haven’t always had access to a library of test security strategies that are most likely to work.

The Department asked the public for input on addressing testing irregularities. We received recommendations for policies and procedures from a variety of sources, including educators, academic researchers, testing companies, law firms, and nonprofit organizations.  Subsequently, the Department’s National Center for Education Statistics held a symposium on testing integrity in Washington, D.C., featuring 16 expert panelists including many of the best thinkers and practitioners in this area.  During the day-long convening, these experts discussed the most effective means to prevent, detect, and investigate testing irregularities in traditional assessment and in the technology-rich assessments of the future.

The Department has released a report summarizing what we heard.  This report consists largely of the opinions of experts who presented at the Symposium or responded to our request for information. We hope that this document will be a starting point for further dialogue around the integrity of academic assessments and that it will help State Education Agencies (SEAs) and Local Education Agencies (LEAs) identify, share, and implement best practices for preventing, detecting, and investigating irregularities in testing.

Jack Buckley is commissioner of the U.S. Department of Education’s National Center for Education Statistics

Duncan to Congress: Giving States Flexibility is Working

Secretary Duncan testifies at Senate Hearing

Secretary Arne Duncan testified on Capitol Hill Thursday during a hearing on ESEA flexibility. Official Department of Education photo by Leslie Williams.

States and their schools are breaking free from the restrictions of No Child Left Behind and pursuing new and better ways to prepare and protect all students, Education Secretary Arne Duncan told a Senate committee Thursday.

In a hearing before the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Duncan promoted the value of providing flexibility to states under the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law, which the Department of Education began offering in 2011. Duncan said that granting states new flexibility through waivers was not his first choice—he would have preferred that Congress reauthorize, or amend the law instead. But in light of congressional gridlock over reauthorization, Duncan said that he was “not willing to stand by idly and do nothing while students and educators continue to suffer under NCLB.”

NCLB is the latest reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). And Duncan said that NCLB has become a well-intended, but overly-prescriptive law that created incentives to lower standards, encouraged teaching to the test, mislabeled many schools as failures, and prescribed a one-size-fits-all accountability system that failed to support local solutions and innovation. With ESEA years overdue for congressional reauthorization, the Obama Administration sent Congress a Blueprint for Reform of ESEA in 2010.

Nearly two years later, after Congress failed to authorize ESEA, the Administration offered states the chance to pursue waivers to NCLB in September 2011. Duncan told the committee that “providing waivers was always, always our plan B.”

In his testimony, and during questions from the Committee, Duncan outlined in detail the ways in which the waiver approach, or “ESEA Flexibility,” – has strengthened accountability for at-risk students, improved evaluation and professional development for teachers and principals, and unleashed a wave of  state-led innovation.

ESEA flexibility supports states and districts in replacing the “one-size-fits-all” interventions of NCLB and empowers states to tailor reforms that meet the needs of their students. Thirty-four states and the District of Columbia have been approved for ESEA flexibility, and nine states, plus Puerto Rico and the Bureau of Indian Education, have pending requests.

Map of ESEA Flexibility

Duncan noted that states receiving NCLB flexibility “must demonstrate a commitment and capacity to improve educational outcomes for all students, close achievement gaps, increase equity, and improve the quality of instruction.”

Multiple Measures of Growth and Gain

One of the unintended effects of NCLB is that it provided incentives to lower academic standards—and 19 states actually lowered their standards after NCLB was enacted in 2001. The law’s narrow measures for school progress—annual reading and math test scores and high school graduation rates—also prompted teaching to the test and an overly simplistic model for assessing school progress. “Under No Child Left Behind there was far too much focus on a single test score,” Duncan said. “I’m more interested in outcomes,” Duncan added. “If you have the best third grade test score in the world but 50 percent of your students are dropping out of high school, you are not changing student’s lives. You can’t get a job with a third grade test score.”

Under ESEA flexibility, states are using multiple measures of growth and gain in student learning, rather than NCLB’s narrow measures. “This is a huge step in the right direction,” said Duncan. “All of the leadership, all of the creativity, is coming from the states.”

Multiple Measures of Growth and Gain Graphic

Better Serving At-Risk Students

At the hearing, Duncan said he was surprised to learn that under NCLB, low-income and minority students, English learners, and students with disabilities were  “invisible” because schools were not held accountable for the performance of subgroups of students if there were not enough students in their subgroup to “count” under state rules. Duncan explained during his testimony that under flexibility, these students are no longer invisible, which “is a significant step in the right direction,” he said.

At Risk Bar Chart

One example of how flexibility is helping at-risk students can be found in Arkansas. Under ESEA flexibility, Arkansas is now holding more than 1,000 schools accountable for subgroups that weren’t accountable under NCLB. Across all states receiving waivers to date, at least 9,000 additional schools are now accountable for subgroups for which they weren’t accountable before.

Duncan pointed out that states with waivers have set aggressive performance targets for all subgroups. They are using performance targets to tailor local interventions, rather than as a tool to label schools as failures. Waiver states are expecting progress for all subgroups–but much faster rates of progress for those that are furthest behind.

Recognizing and Rewarding Schools for Progress and Success

Under ESEA flexibility, states are recognizing a school’s student growth and success–and supporting interventions that work. Secretary Duncan cited the example of Columbus Park Preparatory Academy in Worcester, Mass. Under NCLB, the school was deemed to be among the bottom 20 percent of schools in the state, despite the fact that it was making significant progress in boosting achievement for traditionally low-performing students. “That school’s not a failure,” Duncan said. “That school’s a success … think of how demoralizing it is to teachers who are working so hard to be labeled a failure when you are seeing improvement each year.”

Supporting Teacher and Principal Effectiveness

“Talent matters tremendously in education,” Duncan said in talking about the new and far more robust evaluation systems that states are building under flexibility. States are developing evaluation systems that go far beyond NCLB’s minimum “highly qualified teacher” standards, and are using systems that measure and support effective teaching and leadership based on multiple measures, including student growth. “Great principals lead great schools. Great teachers do miraculous things with children,” he said.

Supporting Teacher and Principal Effectiveness Pie Chart

Duncan described how Tennessee has been at the forefront of improving teacher and principal evaluation systems with the input from 17,000 teachers and administrators. The state also continues to receive feedback so it can refine and improve its evaluation system. “I have yet to meet a teacher who is scared of accountability,” Duncan said. They just want it to be fair. They want it to be honest.

Providing States with Flexibility to Move Forward With Reform

The federal role in education is relatively narrow, Duncan told the committee. “What’s exciting about ESEA flexibility, is that states are leading the way in strengthening education for all children,” he said. In explaining the federal role, Duncan said:

The federal government does not serve as a national school board … We don’t dictate curriculum, levy school assessments, or open and close schools. We don’t specify the content of academic standards or negotiate teachers’ contracts. We do have a responsibility to set a high bar to protect the interests of students, especially at-risk students. But how to reach that bar, I believe, should be left to the states.

Duncan concluded his testimony by noting that in a time of partisan rancor, ESEA waivers had an unusual bipartisan appeal in statehouses across the country. He observed that “we approach this work with both a tremendous sense of excitement, coupled with a real sense of humility.”

In the end, Duncan said, he didn’t have “a moment’s doubt” that state flexibility “is a major improvement for children and for adults over NCLB.” But he stressed the need to learn from any mistakes in the waiver process, correct them quickly, and share that learning across the country. “We can never let the perfect become the enemy of the good,” he cautioned.” And that is what we have done for far too long in education.” Ensuring a world-class education for every child, Duncan added, “is both a demanding challenge and an urgent imperative for our nation, our communities, and our children.”

Click here to read Secretary Duncan’s prepared testimony, and click here to watch a video of Secretary Duncan’s opening statement and the entire hearing.

Read the Department’s recently released publications highlighting ESEA flexibility.

Cameron Brenchley is director of digital strategy at the U.S. Department of Education

How do U.S. Students Compare with their Peers around the World?

New international assessments of student performance in reading, math, and science provide both encouraging news about American students’ progress and some sobering cautionary notes.

The encouraging news is that U.S. fourth grade students have made significant progress in reading and mathematics in the last five years. In fact, our fourth graders now rank among the world’s leaders in reading literacy, and U.S. student achievement in math is now only surpassed, on average, in four countries.

EducationUnfortunately, these signs of real progress are counterbalanced by the fact that learning gains in fourth grade are not being sustained through eighth grade–where mathematics and science achievement failed to measurably improve between 2007 and 2011.

Still, the progress of fourth graders is especially noteworthy because we see it on rigorous, internationally-benchmarked assessments that students take without any special test preparation, the TIMSS (Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study) and PIRLS (Progress in International Reading Literacy Study).

And unlike previous PISA assessments–the other major international assessment, which U.S. 15-year olds take–nine U.S. states voluntarily participated in TIMSS in 2011. For the first time, policymakers and parents now have data to gauge how academic performance in a significant subset of states compares with the U.S. as a whole, and with international competitors.

In 2006, the last time the PIRLS reading assessments were administered, a slew of countries and regions equaled or surpassed U.S. fourth graders in reading. Students in Hungary, Italy, Sweden, and the Canadian province of Alberta had higher levels of literacy than U.S. students.

Yet five years later, U.S. students are out-performing students in all of those nations and provinces. Education systems where students were on a par with U.S. fourth graders in reading literacy in 2006–Austria, Bulgaria, Germany, the Netherlands, and the Quebec region of Canada–have all been surpassed in the last five years by U.S. students.

Just as encouraging, students in highly-diverse states like Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina excelled internationally in a number of subject areas, suggesting that demography is not destiny in America’s schools.

State and local policy turn out to matter a great deal–and can have a powerful influence in advancing or slowing educational progress. It is state and local leaders and educators who are providing the commitment, courage, collaboration, and capacity at the state and local level to accelerate achievement. It’s no surprise that Florida, Massachusetts, and North Carolina all won competitive Race to the Top grants from the federal government.

Finally, the new TIMSS and PIRLS results put to rest, once and for all, the myth that America’s schools cannot be among the world’s top-performing school systems. In fact, eighth graders in Massachusetts performed below only one country in the world in science, Singapore.

In Florida, the math skills of students are on a par with those of their Finnish peers, who have a record of being among the top-performing students in the world. And the reading skills of Florida’s fourth-graders are on a par with those of the top-performing education systems in the world, too, including Finland and Singapore.

For all of the good news, the new TIMSS and PIRLS assessments also underscore the urgency of accelerating achievement in middle school and the pressing need to close large and persistent achievement gaps.

To take one example, in 2011, white eighth graders scored 83 points higher in science on TIMSS than black students and 60 points higher than Hispanic students.

To put those numbers in perspective, white eighth graders in the U.S. did about as well in science as Finland’s and Japan’s students, and were only surpassed by students in Singapore, Chinese Taipei, and Korea.

By contrast, Hispanic eight graders’ science scores were on a par with students from Norway and Kazakhstan. And black eighth graders’ science scores were roughly equivalent to those of students from Iran, Romania, and the United Arab Emirates.

If education is to fulfill its essential role in America as the great equalizer, big achievement gaps and opportunity gaps must close–and all students must receive a world-class education that genuinely prepares them for colleges and careers in the 21st century. In America, educational opportunity cannot depend on the color of your skin, your zip code, or the size of your bank account.

Given the vital role that science, technology, engineering, and math play in stimulating innovation and economic growth, it is particularly troubling that eighth-grade science achievement has barely budged in the U.S. since 2007. Students in Singapore and Korea are far more likely today to perform at advanced levels in science than U.S. students.

In a knowledge-based economy, education is the new key to individual success and national prosperity. The results of the TIMSS and PIRLS assessments show both that our students are on the path to progress–and that we still have a long journey to go before all of America’s children get an excellent education.

–Arne Duncan is the U.S. Secretary of Education

This article originally appeared on the Huffington Post.

What is ED’s Stance on Using Testing Data in Teacher Evaluation?

A recent letter to the Department of Education from a teacher in Cincinnati contained a quote that really struck me: “It is not at all that I am afraid of what my test scores might reveal.  I am more concerned about what my student’s test scores will not reveal.”

The quote rings true of so many classrooms across the country, including my own. I teach students who have been removed from other institutions due to behavior, chronic absences or other issues that have prevented them from being successful in the traditional school setting. Each of my students has been identified as a potential dropout and each has a profound set of challenges that manifest in the classroom.

Marciano Gutierrez

Marciano Gutierrez is a 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, on loan from Alta Vista High School in Mountain View, CA.

As a U.S. Department of Education Teaching Ambassador Fellow I have been able to engage with Secretary Duncan’s senior staff and have learned more about the Department’s stance on teacher evaluation. Like most teachers in the United States, Secretary Duncan strongly believes that a single test result does not adequately reflect the quality or complexity of excellent teaching.

At a speech to the National Council for Social Studies, Mr. Duncan stated, “Just to be 100 percent clear—evaluation should never be based only on test scores. That would be ridiculous. It should also include factors like principal observation or peer review, student work, parent feedback. It should be designed locally—and teachers should be at the table to help design it.” The Department’s work on educator evaluations has thus been to promote multiple measures to elicit a well-rounded perspective on one’s craft and to encourage districts and schools to primarily use these tools as a means for quality professional development. This thinking was also captured in a speech that the Secretary made to Baltimore County teachers this past fall.

As a teacher of students who historically struggle on standardized tests, I understand the concern about tying testing data- which is often influenced by factors outside of my control- to my performance. I am also sometimes frustrated by the quality of the multiple-choice assessments used to assess my students’ learning which are ultimately a reflection upon my practice. Despite these challenges, I do believe that there does need to be some measurement of student performance and growth. This information should be collected and analyzed so that we can continuously improve the learning experience for all students and to ensure that we hold ourselves to high standards and continuous improvement.

While the Department’s policy has been that measures of student growth and gain should be a ‘significant’ factor in teacher evaluations, the Secretary has said that, “we intentionally leave that undefined—because different states will have different approaches—and different confidence levels in their assessments.”

As a previous Teacher Fellow with the Hope Street Group, and in my current work with Race to the Top states, I have seen a variety of state-developed approaches and strategies that aim to meet this vision. I have come to realize that the strongest evaluation systems have been developed with robust teacher input at every stage of the process.  These evaluation systems, which are designed and improved with the practical insight of teachers, use test scores as only one of multiple measures of effectiveness, therefore allowing teachers of students like mine, to demonstrate quality teaching in ways that transcend test scores alone.

Marciano Gutierrez is a 2012 Teaching Ambassador Fellow, on loan from Alta Vista High School in Mountain View, Calif.

We Can’t Wait: 10 States Approved for NCLB Flexibility

“We can’t wait,” President Obama said earlier today at a White House event to announce that 10 states have been approved for flexibility in exchange for reform from No Child Left Behind. The ten states approved for flexibility are Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

“The goals of No Child Left Behind were the right ones,” the President said, pointing to standards, accountability and closing the achievement gap. “We’ve got to stay focused on those goals,” he said. “But we need to do it in a way that doesn’t force teachers to teach to the test, or encourage schools to lower their standards to avoid being labeled as failures.”

In a statement earlier today, Secretary Duncan said that “rather than dictating educational decisions from Washington, we want state and local educators to decide how to best meet the individual needs of students.”

To get flexibility from NCLB, states must adopt and have a plan to implement college and career-ready standards. They must also create comprehensive systems of teacher and principal development, evaluation and support that include factors beyond test scores, such as principal observation, peer review, student work, or parent and student feedback.

States receiving waivers no longer have to meet 2014 targets set by NCLB but they must set new performance targets for improving student achievement and closing achievement gaps.

They also must have accountability systems that recognize and reward high-performing schools and those that are making significant gains, while targeting rigorous and comprehensive interventions for the lowest-performing schools.

Under the state-developed plans, all schools will develop and implement plans for improving educational outcomes for underperforming subgroups of students. State plans will require continued transparency around achievement gaps, but will provide schools and districts greater flexibility in how they spend Title I federal dollars.

Click here to read the press release.

Click here to read the President’s remarks.

Additional information on ESEA Flexibility, including request details, can be found at www.ed.gov/esea/flexibility.

Obama in State of the Union: “America is Back”

President Obama

President Obama delivers his State of the Union address at the U.S. Capitol, White House Photo, Pete Souza

“Teachers matter,” said President Barack Obama last night during his State of the Union address. “Instead of bashing them, or defending the status quo” he said,

let’s offer schools a deal. Give them the resources to keep good teachers on the job, and reward the best ones.  In return, grant schools flexibility:  To teach with creativity and passion; to stop teaching to the test; and to replace teachers who just aren’t helping kids learn.

The President talked about the great strides that states have made in enacting comprehensive education reform:

For less than one percent of what our Nation spends on education each year, we’ve convinced nearly every State in the country to raise their standards for teaching and learning – the first time that’s happened in a generation.

But challenges remain.  And we know how to solve them.

At a time when other countries are doubling down on education, tight budgets have forced States to lay off thousands of teachers.  We know a good teacher can increase the lifetime income of a classroom by over $250,000.  A great teacher can offer an escape from poverty to the child who dreams beyond his circumstance. Every person in this chamber can point to a teacher who changed the trajectory of their lives.  Most teachers work tirelessly, with modest pay, sometimes digging into their own pocket for school supplies – just to make a difference.

The President called for more training to help fill the millions of in-demand jobs:

Jackie Bray is a single mom from North Carolina who was laid off from her job as a mechanic.  Then Siemens opened a gas turbine factory in Charlotte, and formed a partnership with Central Piedmont Community College.  The company helped the college design courses in laser and robotics training.  It paid Jackie’s tuition, then hired her to help operate their plant.

I want every American looking for work to have the same opportunity as Jackie did.  Join me in a national commitment to train two million Americans with skills that will lead directly to a job.  My Administration has already lined up more companies that want to help.  Model partnerships between businesses like Siemens and community colleges in places like Charlotte, Orlando, and Louisville are up and running.   Now you need to give more community colleges the resources they need to become community career centers – places that teach people skills that local businesses are looking for right now, from data management to high-tech manufacturing.

President Obama also touched on the importance of graduation and the need to keep the cost of college down, while ensuring that America’s graduates aren’t burdened by student loan debt.

We also know that when students aren’t allowed to walk away from their education, more of them walk the stage to get their diploma.  So tonight, I call on every State to require that all students stay in high school until they graduate or turn eighteen.

When kids do graduate, the most daunting challenge can be the cost of college.  At a time when Americans owe more in tuition debt than credit card debt, this Congress needs to stop the interest rates on student loans from doubling in July.  Extend the tuition tax credit we started that saves middle-class families thousands of dollars.  And give more young people the chance to earn their way through college by doubling the number of work-study jobs in the next five years.

Of course, it’s not enough for us to increase student aid.  We can’t just keep subsidizing skyrocketing tuition; we’ll run out of money.  States also need to do their part, by making higher education a higher priority in their budgets.  And colleges and universities have to do their part by working to keep costs down.  Recently, I spoke with a group of college presidents who’ve done just that.  Some schools re-design courses to help students finish more quickly.  Some use better technology.  The point is, it’s possible.  So let me put colleges and universities on notice:  If you can’t stop tuition from going up, the funding you get from taxpayers will go down.  Higher education can’t be a luxury – it’s an economic imperative that every family in America should be able to afford.

Click here to read the entire speech, click here to read the President’s Blueprint for An America Built to Last, and for additional information about the State of the Union, visit whitehouse.gov/state-of-the-union-2012.