Remarks by Secretary Duncan at National Assessment Governing Board Swearing-in Ceremony

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Remarks by Secretary Duncan at National Assessment Governing Board Swearing-in Ceremony

November 21, 2014

Thanks so much Terry. Congratulations.

I’ll be pretty quick and take as many questions as folks might have and have more of a conversation. First, just a huge thank you. I think you guys continue to do remarkable work. On a flight earlier today, I was thinking about it. We see so many states moving toward higher standards -- and Terry Holiday has been a huge champion there with what Kentucky has done, as many of you have done as well. If you go back, I don’t think we were seeing this kind of national movement by states, were it not for the NAEP. And I think what challenged the nation was a disconnect between what states were saying was happening in the states and what NAEP was saying was relative to the rest of the nation. So, you guys have been the gold standard, you guys have been the truth tellers, and when you’re at a moment when you have the overwhelming majority of states across the nation on a voluntary basis choosing to raise the bar and do the right thing, without that baseline that you guys have set for a long time, without the dissonance, the disconnect between that and what states were doing individually, I don’t know if we would be where we are.

And so it’s a pretty remarkable testament to your honesty, to your integrity, to the trust and faith that people in the nation have in your collective work. So, pretty amazing to see. Lots of challenges going forward, in how you raise standards, how you better support principals and teachers, how you talk to families about what’s going on, but it’s absolutely directionally the right thing for kids and for the nation. So, really appreciate the leadership.

We obviously have the next generation of assessments coming on board with PARCC and Smarter Balanced in many states this spring, which will absolutely be better than there was there before - more focused on critical thinking skills, more focused on writing, which is really important. But I think there is also an opportunity for this group to start thinking about, if this next generation substitutes a 2.0, I don’t think it’s early at all for this group to start thinking at all what assessments in a 3.0 might look like. And I think there’s lots of room to be creative there. Do we have better tests that take less time, which I think that everybody wants.

How do we connect better formative and summative assessments? How do we continue to look at how much students are growing each year? I’m a much bigger believer in growth and gain than I am in proficiency scores. I think if proficiency cut scores is all you know, folks focus on that 5 percent of kids right on and around that bubble - and kids that are high achieving, kids that have special needs, kids that get left behind. So, I want to know how much students are learning each year. How do we think not just about reading and math? Science is really important, but things like grit and resilience and tenacity and these other skills that we know are also important for kids’ long term success.

Before I came to Chicago Public Schools, I spent a huge amount of time working in the inner city, working on the Southside, and we spent a huge amount of time trying to help our students gain those skills to help them survive, frankly. In very, very tough environments and while we worked very hard on it, till this day I cannot tell you whether we were successful or not in that endeavor.

How do we have assessments that are less scary for children, less scary for teachers, less scary for parents?  How do we better communicate what’s going on? When you think about growth and gain, measuring gains between like students against like students, gifted against gifted, you know, special needs against special needs, it doesn’t sound that hard to talk about, but as you know if you’re following the national conversation, it has caused a huge amount of consternation and distrust and people talking about black boxes and those kinds of things. And there should no black box here. It should be transparent, it should be very, very clear. We should be helping students improve this year. We should be helping teachers master their craft. We should be helping teachers -- better identifying those extraordinary teachers that are helping students learn, those remarkable levels each year, and better learn from those teachers.

Where we’re not seeing learning going on in classrooms, we should find ways to better support those teachers and over time with improvement help them get better. Where they’re not getting better, have an open honest conversation, we should be able to better understand which schools and which districts and states are both raising the bar for all children and closing gaps. And again the lack of transparency across the nation historically has been pretty, damaging I think, to education.

We have many, many states now investing in early childhood education, and that’s a huge deal. Are children honestly entering kindergarten academically, socially and emotionally ready? I’m thrilled with the investment, I’m thrilled with the bipartisan issue in the real world, outside the dysfunction here in Washington. But I think we all have a huge interest in knowing if we are helping our babies enter into kindergarten to be successful or not. And so as you continue to do the great work that you’re doing, I don’t want you to veer off mission or to change course, but I do want you to start thinking. Now is the right time to help the nation move forward. At the end of the day, I think the one thing that we all want to do is increase public confidence in public education.

And in tough economic times, trying to get taxpayers to invest more in education with lots of competing priorities, I think the only way we increase public confidence in public education is if we are honest, if we are transparent, we are clear on the good, the bad and the ugly. That we celebrate the successes, that we challenge the status quo when things aren’t working. That we get past the discourse of whether this is true or not, true or fact-based or not. And again, I can’t think of a body to start or lead a national conversation, to convene folks to think about where as a nation we need to go in terms of honest and thorough assessment that helps us understand what’s working and what’s not without creating drama for students, teachers and parents. And so again extraordinary amount of work, I couldn’t be more pleased with what you have challenged the nation to do. Maybe this is the next generation of challenges that you guys can help to push us in that direction.

I’ll stop there and be happy to take a few questions and let you guys get back to your meeting.