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Gates Foundation Backs Away from Using Common Core Tests for Teacher Evaluations

Gates Foundation Backs Away from Using Common Core Tests for Teacher Evaluations

Just one day after calls for congressional investigations into the ties between the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the Obama administration that led to states adopting the Common Core standards, the Gates Foundation has announced that it is urging a moratorium on high-stakes Common Core-aligned testing decisions tied to teacher evaluations and student promotions for the next two years.

Vicki Phillips, Director of Education, College Ready for the Gates Foundation, wrote Tuesday that while she believes teachers are seeing successes in their classrooms with the implementation of the Common Core standards, the goal of using the tests aligned with the Common Core for the purpose of teacher evaluations and student promotions needs more time.

“But even the best new ideas aren’t self-fulfilling; they have to be put into practice wisely,” Phillips wrote. “That’s especially true when it comes to using assessment scores as a factor in student or teacher evaluations.”

Phillips continued:

The Gates Foundation is an ardent supporter of fair teacher feedback and evaluation systems that include measures of student gains. We don’t believe student assessments should ever be the sole measure of teaching performance, but evidence of a teacher’s impact on student learning should be part of a balanced evaluation that helps all teachers learn and improve.

At the same time, no evaluation system will work unless teachers believe it is fair and reliable, and it’s very hard to be fair in a time of transition. The standards need time to work. Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests, and offer their feedback. Applying assessment scores to evaluations before these pieces are developed would be like measuring the speed of a runner based on her time – without knowing how far she ran, what obstacles were in the way, or whether the stopwatch worked!

“That’s why the Gates Foundation agrees with those who’ve decided that assessment results should not be taken into account in high-stakes decisions on teacher evaluation or student promotion for the next two years, during this transition,” Phillips said.

The National Education Association (NEA), the nation’s largest teachers’ union, applauded the Gates Foundation’s letter, reported the New York Times.

“We absolutely need more time not only in using them in high-stakes decisions about teachers, but in using them in high-stakes decisions about students, too,” said Becky Pringle, secretary-treasurer of NEA.

Actual policy decisions about suspensions of high-stakes testing for teacher evaluations and student promotions are to be made by individual state legislatures or departments of education.

In a recently released interview with Bill Gates by the Washington Post, he revealed that the main purpose of the Common Core standards, for which he has been the primary source of private funding, is to address “the huge problem that low-income kids get less good education than suburban kids get…”

Phillips’s letter underscores that goal and the hope that a suspension in high-stakes testing decisions would help to further it.

“This can ensure that students receive the high-quality instruction that will get them ready for life – and can track their growth as they go. That would fulfill the goals of the Common Core: to promote the opportunity that is the purpose of our public schools,” Phillips wrote. “At a time when economic inequality is rising and social mobility is falling, the Common Core is the best way to keep faith with the American Dream.”

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