Over the last four years, states and school districts across America have embraced an enormous set of urgent challenges with real courage: raising standards to prepare young people to compete in the global economy, developing new assessments, rebuilding accountability systems to meet the needs of each state and better serve at-risk students, and adopting new systems of support and evaluation for teachers and principals. Meeting this historic set of challenges all at once asks more of everybody, and it’s a tribute to the quality of educators, leaders, and elected officials across this country that so many have stepped up.
One crucial change has been the state-led effort to voluntarily raise standards. That effort dates back to 2006, when a bipartisan core of leaders – governors, state superintendents, business people — came together because they recognized that America’s students needed to be prepared to compete in a global economy that demanded more than basic skills. They began a movement that has ended up with nearly every state adopting standards that reflect the knowledge and skills young people actually need to succeed in college and careers. Especially in communities where students historically have not been held to high standards, this state-led push is nothing less than a civil rights issue.
To put student learning squarely at the center of school decisions, states agreed to evaluate principals and teachers based in part on student growth, as measured by test scores, along with measures like principal observation, peer review, feedback from parents and students, and classroom work. These commitments became part of waiver agreements that have helped states dispense with the most broken parts of the federal No Child Left Behind law.
The US Department of Education also provided $350 million to two consortia of states to develop online assessments, benchmarked to the new standards, which will improve significantly on today’s “bubble tests.” All but a few states have agreed to implement these new evaluation systems by the 2015-16 school year.