Test Data Plan Personally Approved by Obama

by Robert Pondiscio
July 25th, 2009

Insisting that states allow the use of standardized test data to evaluate teachers, the signature feature of the Race to the Top fund initiative, was personally approved by President Obama, according to EdWeek’s Michele McNeil.

When Education Department staff members finally settled on the data firewall rule, which would effectively knock out two states with giant student populations and powerful Congressional delegations, I’m told that education staffers took it up to those above their pay grades.  To Obama Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, and eventually, to the president himself. And Obama, apparently, didn’t need much convincing.

Meanwhile, in a detailed analysis of the guidelines, Stephen Sawchuck says the data firewall issue is not just about performance pay. 

States receiving Race to the Top funds must commit to using their teacher-effectiveness data for everything from evaluating teachers to determining the type of professional development they get to making decisions about granting tenure and pursuing dismissals. And, they will also be expected to track graduates of their education schools into classrooms to help institutions figure out which pathways and courses produce the best teachers.

The issue is not the use of the data, but the value of the data.  Is it possible to make good decisions with bad data?  Perhaps it doesn’t matter. One possibility raised by Fordham’s Mike Petrilli is that states will “superficially swear allegiance to these reform ideas but implement them half-heartedly down the road.”