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Figuring Out Accountability During the Common-Core Transition

The next couple of years will be rough going. That's no surprise to anyone who's been tracking the Common Core State Standards and waivers from key parts of the No Child Left Behind Act. Those big movements have pressed states into changing academic expectations, curricula, teacher evaluation, accountability and other tectonic plates of the school landscape. And common assessments, slated to make their debut in the spring of 2015, will likely provide the numbers that influence evaluations of many educators, schools, and districts.

You can see the education groups staking out turf for the transition. Michele McNeil over at Politics K12 is writing in the last couple of days about new developments in this area. Yesterday, she reported on a bid by the Council of Chief State School Officers to press the U.S. Education Department into allowing states the flexibility they need as they adjust their systems in response to the common core and to NCLB waivers. Today, she updates us with news that a handful of organizations representing district leaders is pushing for "adequate time" to make the transition as well.

Earlier this week, The New York Times weighed in with an editorial on the topic as well. States should move ahead with their planned reforms, the newspaper said, but "the Education Department should give states the flexibility to refrain from penalizing schools or teachers based on the test data for at least a year, until an evaluation system for the common core is validated. This would only be common sense."

This flurry of positioning on flexibility got a big infusion late last month when American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten urged a moratorium on any high-stakes consequences linked to the common standards. Last week, a small group of state education chiefs issued a statement urging states to go full steam ahead, with no moratorium.

The delicate turf being staked out here, of course, has to do with how far flexibility goes before it relieves pressure for improvement. Some already argue, for instance, that delaying teacher evaluation systems based in part on common-core tests lets teachers off the hook for ensuring that students reach mastery. Others counter that it's unfair to expect teachers—or students—to have mastered something so quickly.

Stay tuned for more as this debate shapes policy.

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