Is the era of teaching to the test nearing an end?

One more state received a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind Act requirements this week, and the debate about what the waivers will mean for education policy continues.

Jon Stewart interviews U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan on Thursday about the Obama administration's education reform agenda.

New Mexico, which was left waiting for a verdict on its application after an announcement that 10 other states had been granted waivers last week, got word Wednesday that its waiver had been approved. Among a long list of other things that reviewers of the application wanted changed, the state had to provide more detail about how it planned to meet the student performance benchmarks that are still a requirement under the more flexible waiver rules.

How will the waivers impact education nationally? I discussed the issue this week with Jane Williams, host of Bloomberg EDU, in a show that also included commentary from U.S. Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Senator Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), and reporter John Hechinger of Bloomberg News. The show covers questions about whether disadvantaged populations like special-education students and English language learners will fall through the cracks, and how the waivers might impact the reauthorization of No Child Left Behind.

Another concern that has come up in the wake of the waiver announcements is whether pressure to “teach to the test”—which most experts and educators agree No Child Left Behind has intensified—will continue. The waivers are meant to encourage states to move beyond standardized tests in English and math, which generally only cover grades three through eight, to come up with multiple measures to hold schools and, increasingly, individual teachers accountable for their performance. Duncan repeated this week his belief that the waivers will alleviate, not exacerbate, the teaching-to-the-test phenomenon.

Some teachers seem skeptical. One teacher, writing on Twitter during a town hall meeting Duncan held this week, asked: “Why base so much of a teacher’s evaluation on a single test score?” referencing the growing number of states that are incorporating student test-scores into teacher evaluations in response to federal education policy, including the Race to the Top competition and the NCLB waiver process. And on Thursday, Daily Show host Jon Stewart grilled Duncan about the Obama administration’s reforms, asking at one point whether they wouldn’t just encourage a “lazy susan of tests” in a host of subjects, instead of just in math and reading.

For more on the waivers and what they’ll mean going forward, listen to “Bloomberg EDU,” which airs Friday evenings at 10 pm; Saturdays at 5 am, 11 am and 8 pm; and Sundays at 12 am and 7 pm. (All times listed are Eastern.)

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