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Duncan Wants NAEP Leaders to Help Shape 'Assessment 3.0'

By guest blogger Catherine Gewertz. Cross-posted from Curriculum Matters.

Washington

U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan urged the policymakers who oversee the National Assessment of Educational Progress to lead the way in thinking about the next generation of assessments, saying they have a unique role as "truth-tellers" as states seek better ways to gauge what students know.

In remarks at the quarterly meeting of the National Assessment Governing Board, Duncan said that NAEP data helped drive states into a conversation about the need for better tests that held students to higher, shared expectations. To facilitate that, the U.S. Department of Education awarded $360 million in 2010 to two groups of states, the PARCC and Smarter Balanced consortia, to design assessments for the Common Core State Standards.

"I don't think we would have seen this kind of national movement by states were it not for the NAEP," Duncan said. "What challenged the nation was the disconnect between what NAEP was saying and what states [own tests] were saying" about student achievement.

"... You guys have been the gold standard, the truth-tellers, when we have states choosing to raise standards and doing the right thing," Duncan said.

The PARCC and Smarter Balanced tests will "absolutely be better" than the tests states have been using, he said, but it's time to think about what comes next. Having each state required to test children on their reading and math skills was the first version of assessment, and this year's "next-generation assessments" are "version 2.0," he said.

"But it's not too early for this group to start thinking about what assessments 3.0 will look like," he said. That version, in Duncan's view, would feature "better tests that take less time," and tests that do a better job of linking formative and summative feedback. They would be good at showing student growth, and measuring student qualities such as grit and tenacity that play a big role in learning.

Duncan urged the governing board, which sets policy for NAEP, to think about "how as a nation we move forward" on assessment. 

Answering questions from board members, Duncan touched on a few hot-button issues. One governing board member, UCLA professor emeritus W. James Popham, asked Duncan what he was going to do about "the absurdity" of linking teacher evaluations to student test scores. But Duncan stuck to his guns on that issue.

"I'm not trying to contribute to absurdity," he said with a laugh. "There is no perfect way to do this. But we've drawn a line in the sand" and insisted that schools factor student test scores into teacher evaluations "and we're not going to change that." States can work with the department if they need more time to put such systems in place, he said, reiterating the flexibility he announced last summer. But in the end, test scores will play a role in teacher evaluations, he said. 

Another governing board member, Harvard University professor Andrew Ho, asked Duncan his thoughts on how NAEP could maintain "both breadth and depth" in the academic subjects it assesses as the governing board grapples with budgetary constraints. Duncan said the department would "try and do the best we can" so that NAEP can continue to track student performance in a wide range of subjects. 

"You guys have always been important," he said, "but never more than now," when states are transitioning to new tests, and NAEP's trend lines offer valuable consistency.

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