Secretary Duncan on Common Core Standards and the Next Generation of Assessments

Secretary Duncan recently responded to several questions asked via his Facebook page, including a question from Annie about Common Core standards. The Secretary praised the courageous work of states that are refusing to dumb down standards and are working to expand the depth and breadth of academic programs. Duncan encouraged states to not just focus on standards, but to “have a well-rounded curriculum to make sure all of our children have access to a wide range of subjects.”

The Secretary also answered a question regarding the need for a “new generation” of assessments to evaluate student progress. While improving assessments is a decision that will be made on the state and local level, Secretary Duncan emphasized that ED contributed almost $350 million in grants to 44 states who are collaborating on improved assessments.

Continue the conversation on Secretary Duncan’s Facebook page, on Twitter and in the comments below.

Click here for an alternate version of the video with an accessible player.

Ben Firke is an intern in the office of Communications and Outreach at the Department of Education


  1. SAT’S Negative Effects
    Education has always been described to me as the great equalizer, and I would often see posters proclaiming knowledge is power in my school hallways. I believe this statement remains true but not all people are given an equal education, and then standardized test are given and not everyone is prepared. The problem is standardized testing expects all students to have reached a point in which they have at least learned all the material on the test, but that is not true. The standard given by these tests are not being met, the point of standardized test is to give a standard of a student’s performance to have a fair basis of comparison, but what is taught in school is not uniform and not everyone learns what is on the test. Many factors illustrate the inequality of standardized test in particular the SAT’s, and the pressure it puts on students to do well, and the decisiveness of the exam on students educational future.
    The pressure to perform well is enormous because standardized play such big role in shaping what your education experience is and where you end up for college which in turns affects your career. In my time in school I remember taking standardized test as early as second grade, but getting ready for college entrance exams was especially grueling. I remember my junior year of high school taking the PSAT’s, and my counselors said you all should take this seriously because it is one of the most important tests you’ll ever take. The pressure of that statement weighs heavily on students all over the country who realize the SAT, Scholastic Aptitude Test, is the most used college entrance exam. Gose and Selingo state in their essay on the SAT the college board president remarks, This is not a biased test, what we have is an unequal education system.” The educational system is unequal and many have felt the inequality as they take the test. The College Board is aware of this fact, yet we still use the test to gage student performance. It is as if a horse has been shot in the leg, but we expect it to compete at it’s full potential.
    On the College Board, the creators of the SAT’s, website there is a tab that reads why take the SAT’s? Four main reasons are given of why to take the exam, it test what you already know, it is fair to everyone, it’s more than just a test, and it helps you find the right college for you. The SAT is composed of a critical reading section, a math section, and a writing section. The first claim the College Board makes is it test what you already know, but that may not be true for many people because many people are not reading or doing math at grade level, and that is what No Child Left Behind, a policy enacted in order to race literacy and math levels by 2014, is supposed to alleviate, so how would student already know what’s on the test if so many students are behind an educational policy had to be put into place to attempt to correct the problem. Then the College Board states it is fair to everyone again how can that be if so many are testing under grade level, and the large gaps of minority results compared to their white counterparts that cannot be true. College Board is right when it states it is more than just a test, it is a major determinate on whether a student gets into college or not, and it may not even be fair. Finally College Board states it can help you find the right college it does this based on your score, but what if you flourish in the class room and you are a simply a bad test taker, or for some reason you could not perform to your best ability that score tells what colleges would be right for you, but that does not mean you should be in a certain college because of that. If you end up at school that is not challenging enough because you could not perform in a high stress environment, then the test failed to do its job. The SAT’s has many flaws yet it remains the biggest admission’s exams in the United States.
    Socio-economics plays a huge role in performance in standardized test in general. If you are socially disadvantaged you generally cannot afford to take an SAT prep class, and if you go to a school that lacks resources and you haven’t learned everything that will be on the test you probably won’t do as well as someone who can afford these things. Every student has an extremely unique situation you can’t know what students deal with on a daily basis they might have to take care of siblings, or work to help take care of the family that affects student performance, and it’s not fair to students in those circumstances. Inner- city schools are notorious for doing poorly on test there are so many odds against kids who go to schools that simply don’t have resources. “When schools manage to scrape together enough money to buy test prep material it is often at the expense of books (Kohn, 601). I can personally attest to that, it is hard to do well in school when family problems are on your mind or when your school can’t afford to accurately help you. I have gone to schools like these my whole life with the exception of college, and I have to work extra hard because there are fundamental gaps in my education because my schools didn’t have the resources to help fix or teach me certain skills because we had to make time for test prep, which in many cases had nothing to do with what we were learning. Some high school teachers take time out of classes to prepare for the SAT’s (Gose and Selingo, 626). Often the test takes time of actual class for test prep skill that many will never use again.
    The SAT’s also are accused of testing superficial aspects of learning. The SAT’s uses a 25-minute writing sample to determine a student’s ability to write the kind of extended prose required in college (Williams, 606). It is simply unrealistic to expect to gain insight on how someone will perform in college based off sample like that; college is about critical thinking not arbitrary writing exercises. The disturbing part is many prep books they give you tips to boost your score without actually knowing the material if students can do that it does accurately show what you know if you can “game the test”(Williams, 607). The test is taken in a high stress environment in which each section is strictly timed. This method does not give an accurate prediction of how a student will perform in college; college is not one big timed test it is a place to help develop critical thinking.
    The challenge now is if the SAT is failing what should the alternative be, well that’s a complicated question but it needs to be addressed. Schools vary in curriculum in they way they grade students, so it makes sense that standardized are weighed so heavily to equalize. The problem is as I’ve discussed is it’s not equal if standardized test are going to be used the format needs to completely change. Students need to be tested on critical thinking skills and skills that they actually need in college to succeed such as, writing prose or reading comprehension and not design test that are sped up so that the student does not finish the test. If subjects are going to be placed on a test can we make sure everyone has learned what is on the test. Test should also be relevant to what we spend four years in high school learning.

    Work Cited
    Alfie Kohn. “Standardized Testing and Its Victims.” Elements of Argument. Anne Rottenberg and Donna Haisty Winchell. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009. 598-603
    Bronwyn T. Williams. “Standardized Students: The Problem with Writing for Tests Instead of People.” Elements of Argument. Anne Rottenbeg and Donna Haisty Winchell. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009. 603-610
    Ben Gose and Jeffery Selingo. “The SAT’s Greatest Test: Social, Legal, and Demographic Forces Threaten to Dethrone the Most Widely Used College-Entrance Exam.” Elements of Argument. Anne Rottenberg and Donna Haisty Winchell. Boston: Bedford/St. Martins, 2009. 623-633
    College Board. SAT. College Board. 2011. Web. 16 Oct. 2011

  2. Dear Secretary Duncan,

    With the implementation of the Core Standards, are there textbook companies who have embraced these standards and are writing math textbooks which are carefully aligned to these national standards? If so, when will these textbooks be available?

    (This has been one of our challenges in our state – once we had a rigorous set of standards, we really had a difficult time finding a text that we could use effectively. Without a good text, districts incur huge expenses designing and developing lessons in support of the new standards. We are really hopeful this won’t be a problem with national standards. )

    Carol – Middle School Math Dept Chair

  3. Standardized testing does not measure learning. It was never designed to do so. That’s why schools are doing so “bad”. When you look at standardized scores as they were intended, they are working. They give a generalized score or measure that lets teachers, administrators and gov agencies know when one area deviates significantly from the norm; thus giving a heads up that education quality isn’t equitable in this area. It breaks down income and ethnicity gaps very well, but it doesn’t measure what a student has learned.

  4. besides paying states to make tests, what else does the Dept of Ed do? Why does it not mandate Gifted Ed? Require AP courses?

Comments are closed.