ED Mailbag: Arne on Standardized Testing and 360° Accountability

Secretary Arne Duncan recently responded to two questions he received via social media.

He first addressed a question from Nate concerning the overreliance on standardized testing. Duncan explained that No Child Left Behind places too much weight on one test, leading to a narrow curriculum. With waivers from NCLB, more than half of the states are creatively moving away from single test scores to other critical factors in closing the achievement gap, like graduation rates and career readiness.

Another inquirer, Monica, asked about how parents and students – not just teachers – can be held accountable for student success. Duncan agreed wholeheartedly and said schools need “360 degree accountability.”

“I tell students all the time it is their job to get a great education,” said Duncan. “Nobody can do that for them.” Tennessee and other states are developing new, innovative systems for measuring parental influence on student progress, models that Duncan said he will be watching closely. “We have to stop pointing fingers,” Secretary Duncan said. “Accountability has to be shared responsibility.”

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Alexandra Strott is a student at Middlebury College and an intern in ED’s Office of Communications and Outreach


  1. There is one and only one way to create accountability: to create consequenses for actions. It is easy to create consequenses for teachers, after all their jobs are on the line, jobs they have spent much of their lifetimes preparing for. It is not really hard to create consequenses for students, but it is hard to create consequenses we can all agree on. One effective consequense is to simply allow students to fail, but that does not seem to be acceptable politically.

    It is almost impossible to create consequenses for parents.

    Students get a huge amount of freedom in schools, and for the most part that freedom is a good thing. For some students, though, the freedom is a freedom not to learn, and we have to decide that is simply unacceptable. When Renee says “teachers who cannot grasp their attention with lessons that do not carry over as skills necessary to be successful in life” this is mostly interpreted as a failure of teachers when it is really a failure of students. When did we give students a choice about where to give attention in class? When did we give students a choice about what skills are necessary to be sucessful in life? Look, these are children, they have no idea what life is like, what skills they need. Yet they get to decide that things like math, or science, or writing are unimportant.

    I will tell you one thing, attention is a critical skill.

    It is the job of a teacher, of our schools, to give students the skills they cannot get from simply living life. Skills students do not even know they need, but turn out to be critical at age 30 or 40. Schools have been turned on their heads.

    There is a simple answer, but one that may not be politically acceptable. For most student, our current school environment offers huge opportunities for learning when those oppotunities are taken advantage of. For other students, the freedom leads to poor choices, to disruptions and a poor learning environment. Get those students out of class. Create another environment for them, maybe charter schools, maybe other types of alternative schools. Do not allow them to ruin education for the other students.

  2. Please forgive me if I am inserting thoughts that do not apply, I wanted to get some feedback on my thoughts of our education system and the reform it so desperately needs. From beginning to end, we have problems where education of life skills and that starts by recognizing our nation has been on autopilot and our children are left to technology and teachers who cannot grasp their attention with lessons that do not carry over as skills necessary to be successful in life.
    Meanwhile, they are expected to learn the responsibilities of citizenship, strong work ethic, general household management skills and crafts such as cooking or mowing the yard. How can we expect government assistance or the massive consumer credit debt (and government) to change while our education concerns themselves with how to create a proper sentence and solve equations that very few will use, they have an app for that. So I propose we begin by requiring a one year life skills only program be implemented-after graduation but before college, marriage, etc., Learning manners, ethics. etiquette, money management, credit card and financial planning, responsibilities as an American, a neighbor, a friend, a lover, a parent, an employer, or a student. Teach them how to maintain their car, body, mind. general household maintenance and environmental economy. how to take care of a child and how parents can learn and teach their children to be an asset to our community. Pass it on. We never learn all their is to know of life. We sure need to try a lot harder than we are if we expect to be a world leader.

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