Aaron Pallas to President Obama: "Slow the Testing Train Down"
Published in Views on the News
The big news in the first Obama Administration was the Race to the Top (RttT) initiative, which set states up to compete against one another for a fixed pot of federal funds in a race to make education policy changes favored by the Administration. From the standpoint of the federal government, RttT was a great success. Many more states initiated reforms in school choice, teacher evaluation and information system policies than received funds in the competition. Although RttT has been costly, the perceived payoff in policy reforms, from the Administration’s viewpoint, has more than justified the federal outlay. Expect more of the same in the next four years.
Ironically, the Administration championed evidence-based decision-making while wielding powerful incentives for states to implement unproven policies. There is no consistent evidence to date that linking teacher evaluations to student test scores results in better student achievement in the long run. And there may be unintended consequences of such policies, as the volatility in evaluations based on student test scores may drive good teachers out of the classroom, and limit the ability of school districts to recruit talented individuals prepared to teach for the long haul.
To worsen matters, most states are now phasing in a new set of national learning standards, the Common Core State Standards, and new assessments aligned with these standards. The standards are more challenging than existing state standards, and will likely be implemented before most teachers can be prepared to teach to them.
My advice to President Obama and Secretary Duncan, then, is to slow this train down. Rather than dangling gold-plated carrots in front of cash-starved states to induce the implementation of untested policies, it would be better to invest in supporting a smaller number of states and districts in implementing carefully designed teacher evaluation systems, and monitoring both the implementation and its outcomes. That's a better strategy than Rush to the Test.