Education Dep't To Fund Overhaul of State Assessments

The United States Department of Education is looking to change the way assessments are done. In a speech Sunday, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said his department will commit up to $350 million to "support states in the creation of rigorous assessments linked to the internationally benchmarked common standards being developed by states."

Duncan spoke at the 2009 Governors Education Symposium in North Carolina where, according to ED, he praised those states and territories that have agreed to develop common assessment standards for K-12 English/language arts and math. Forty-six states and three territories have signed on for the plan, which is designed to overcome what have been frequently cited as two of the weaknesses of high-stakes tests under No Child Left Behind--disparate standards between states and low standards that fail to prepare students for higher education or the 21st century workforce.

"Perhaps for the first time, we have enough money to really make a difference. We have proven strategies for success in schools all across America. This is where reform will play out. It will filter up from classrooms and schools, districts and localities, but then it will arrive on your desks," said Duncan in a partial transcript of his speech released by ED. "And when it does, I urge you to remember that the truest measure of a society's worth is whether it offers all of our children the opportunity to go where they want to go, do what they want to do, and fulfill their dreams. This is the promise of education. This is my promise. This is your promise. This is the American promise."

The Education Department will provide financing by way of Race to the Top Fund, a part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), to support development of assessments that will "be research- and evidence-based, internationally benchmarked, aligned with college and work expectations, and include rigorous content and skills," according to ED.

The Race to the Top Fund is designed to help states in their efforts to bolster student achievement. It provides $4.35 billion for incentives for states to create innovative programs that can be replicated throughout the country. It's aimed at funding programs that will potentially drive school improvement and reform.

Duncan also laid out the timeline for Race to the Top Fund procedures. Phase 1 funding applications will be due in December 2009, with grants awarded in March. Phase 2 applications will be due in June 2010, with grants to be awarded in September 2010. A notice of proposed rulemaking will be posted in the Federal Register in late July.

In other ARRA news, the Department of Education announced Friday that it will make $18.5 million available to help 57 low-income school districts improve their libraries.

"Encouraging students to improve their reading is a key to their success in school and in life," Duncan said in a prepared statement. "These grants help schools give students access to the most up-to-date books, technology, and highly trained library personnel to improve teaching and learning and to challenge students to achieve."

The initiative will be funded through the Improving Literacy Through School Libraries program and will provide money for technology improvements, book acquisition, Internet-based resource sharing, professional development for library staff, expanding hours of operation, and supporting collaboration.

About the Author

David Nagel is editorial director of 1105 Media's Education Technology Group and editor-in-chief of THE Journal and STEAM Universe. A 25-year publishing veteran, Nagel has led or contributed to dozens of technology, art and business publications.

He can be reached at You can also connect with him on LinkedIn at or follow him on Twitter at @THEJournalDave (K-12) or @CampusTechDave (higher education).

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