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August 13, 2009
2:25 PM


Dr. Monty Neill (857) 350-8207 x101
or Bob Schaeffer (239) 395-6773

'Race to the Top' Guidelines Conflict With Obama's Testing Positions; Assessment Reformers Say, 'Back to the Drawing Board,' for Stimulus Plan to Truly Support Better Education

WASHINGTON - August 13 - Draft guidelines for the federal "Race to the Top" (RTTT) program, recently issued by the U.S. Department of Education (DoE), conflict with President Obama's repeated calls for less emphasis on standardized exam scores and "would actually make high-states testing problems worse," according to the nation's leading assessment reform organization.      

In formal comments submitted to DoE today, the National Center for Fair & Open Testing (FairTest) wrote, "Unfortunately many of the ‘Race to the Top' (RTTP) draft guidelines issued by the Department of Education represent a step backwards from the President's goals." The FairTest statement continued, "RTTT's focus on high-states testing goes well beyond what even the test-centric No Child Left Behind (NCLB) law now requires."     

During his campaign for the Presidency, Barack Obama said, "We should not be forced to spend the academic year preparing students to fill in bubbles on standardized tests." Candidate Obama added that the nation needs to use "a broader range of assessments that can evaluate higher-order skills, including students' abilities to use technology, conduct research, engage in scientific investigation, solve problems, present and defend their ideas." Just this June, President Obama explained that assessments could include "one standardized test, plus portfolios of work that kids are doing, plus observing the classroom. There can be a whole range of assessments."      

Among the problems with the DoE guidelines cited by FairTest:      

- Basing teacher and principal pay on how well their students fill in multiple-choice test bubbles will undermine school reform, not advance it. As President Obama indicated, the use of test scores to judge schools, as mandated by NCLB, has harmed education. By encouraging states to make student test scores a "significant factor" in teacher and principal evaluation, RTTT will intensify the damage.     

- Encouraging national exams will not reduce the problems caused by over-reliance on testing. States with "tougher" tests do not consistently perform better on the National Assessment of Educational than those with less rigorous exams. Many countries with top-performing educational systems do far less testing with far lower stakes than does the U.S.     

- Continuing to overemphasize test scores will limit the value of data systems. Though it suggests states gather various sorts of information, including out-of-school factors, RTTT treats test results as the most important data. Yet, test scores provide woefully insufficient data about learning.      

- Eliminating some major school reform policies currently available to states makes no sense. While blocking the more flexible options for "restructuring" schools allowed by NCLB that some states are using successfully, the guidelines continue the law's automatic requirement to take extreme, often ineffective actions based solely on test scores.    

FairTest Interim Executive Director Monty Neill concluded, "If the federal government truly wants to play a positive role in improving education, the Department of Education must go back to the drawing board. This misguided effort at ‘reform' conflicts with President Obama's stated goals and would perpetuate some of the Bush-Paige-Spellings regime's worst elements of test misuse and overuse."  

- FairTest's full comments on the RTTT draft guidelines are posted online at

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