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Education Lab Blog

Education Lab is a yearlong project to spark meaningful conversations about education solutions in the Pacific Northwest.

June 12, 2014 at 5:00 AM

Gates backs delay in assessing teachers with Common Core tests

A California judge’s decision on Tuesday to throw out some of that state’s teacher tenure and seniority laws seemed to overshadow another piece of interesting news:

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it supports a two-year delay in using the new Common Core tests to evaluate teachers, or to decide whether students should advance to the next grade.

Here’s the Washington Post story on the announcement, which has a link to a letter sent out by Vicki Phillips, the foundation’s director of education.

The foundation isn’t backing away from its strong support of the Common Core, a set of learning standards in reading and math that most states have agreed to use. In her letter, Phillips calls the Common Core “an urgent cause.”

But she also said the foundation has heard from teachers who worry that a rushed effort to use Common Core assessments in teacher evaluations “could punish teachers as they’re trying new things, and any hiccups in the assessments could be seen as flaws in the standards.”

“The standards need time to work,” she wrote. “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!”

Phillips’ announcement follows similar, much earlier ones from the nation’s two big teachers unions. It also follows another recent story in the Post, which raised questions about the foundation’s role in backing and building political support for the Common Core, which 45 states quickly agreed to use, including Washington. (A few states have since dropped out, and more are considering doing so.)

This isn’t the first time that the foundation has urged states or school districts to slow down on initiatives that the foundation helped put in motion. And it’s not the first time it’s chimed in (usually much later) on positions taken by the teachers unions. A few years ago, Bill Gates wrote op-eds in The New York Times and the Washington Post , siding with teachers who opposed releasing teacher performance ratings, based on student test scores, to the public.

While some teachers have welcomed what they see as an evolution in the foundation’s thinking, others deride such actions as damage control.

(Disclosure: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is one of the two sponsors of this year’s Education Lab project at The Seattle Times.)

Comments | More in News | Topics: Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, common core, Vicki Phillips

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