Education, From The Capitol To The Classroom

Duncan: We Should Keep Online Testing, But We Should Learn From ISTEP+ Failures


U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan testifies before Congress.

Online standardized tests are here to stay, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said Thursday, but “there will be bumps, there will be hurdles, there will be mistakes” like the statewide failures of online ISTEP+ exams on Monday and Tuesday.

In response to a question from StateImpact during a speech to the Education Writers Association, Duncan suggested this week’s glitches in Indiana, Oklahoma and Minnesota represent a learning opportunity. Here’s what he said:

We should have competition. We should be transparent — I don’t know who that company is, I don’t want to pre-judge — but if that company can’t deliver, there’s an opportuntiy for someone else to come in and do something very, very different… We should not have one problem and then say we should go all the way back to pencil and paper, that doesn’t make sense to me.

This is a business. Folks are making money to buy these service. If those folks are doing a good job to provide that service, they should get more business. If they’re doing a bad job providing that service, they should go out of business…

We’ll get better and better. I do think, directionally, this is the right way to go. We have multiple players playing in these space… Let’s see who’s for real. But again, directionally, having computer-adaptive tests, having the ability to evaluate way more than just fill-in-the-bubble stuff — the critical thinking skills — directionally, it’s the right way to go.

There will be bumps, there will be mistakes. The big thing is, ‘What can we learn with them?’ What was wrong with the contract? What was wrong— how do we not replicate this someplace else? With all this stuff, we’re moving the country in this direction, so for me, that’s not just an Indiana challenge.

In a statement released late Thursday, Indiana Department of Education officials said schools should continue reducing their online ISTEP+ testing loads on Friday. State officials say schools can go back to testing full loads on Monday.

The IDOE has also extended the online testing window (again) by two days. The testing window now closes on May 17.

Don’t forget to take a look at the contract the state signed with CTB/McGraw Hill. Here’s the latest public statement from the company.


  • Susie Highley

    To me, the most (there are others) incredulous part of this is that he claims not to know CTB/McGraw Hill!

    • Linda174

      Arne is following orders from Gates and Broad, pure and simple. This is not a mystery anymore. He is their Manchurian candidate. He knows nothing but what they tell him to spout. Read more about Eli here:

    • Linda174

      Also just google image Arne and Eli. There are many cozy pictures of Arne in his ear…what do I do now boss?

  • Cindi Pastore

    So seriously, what’s wrong with this man? You ask the Secretary of Education of the United States of America a question about the testing glitches, and he answers with a soliloquy about business competition? As if what we care about here is McGraw Hill and which testing company is best? Really? How about answering that it’s NOT fair that teachers’and their students’ LIVES and LIVELIHOODS be judged by such tests in the first place? How about discussing the instructional time that is lost in the name of all these tests? How about answering that perhaps the person who signed the contract (Tony Bennett) with this company ought to be investigated for this huge waste of money? How about a discussion of whether or not all (or any) of this testing is necessary in the first place? But NO, he answers your question about EDUCATION with an answer about business competition. Really, HE HAS NO BUSINESS BEING THE SECRETARY OF EDUCATION!! Duncan needs to be DUMPED.

    • Stephanie Roth

      Every time I read one of Duncan’s speeches, I am shocked by his lack of intelligence or substance. Maybe this is why we heard so little from him the first 5 years he was in office? Does he even have any ideas worth expressing? He comes off so … dumb. Can this man possibly be our Secretary of Education? If any department needs brilliance and strong leadership right now, it’s the Dept of Ed. Help!!!!

      • Debbie

        We need to do away with the DOE!! That is the solution!

  • Sandra Hawk

    He’s so detached about the whole thing. Like today’s schools, students, teachers, and staff are guinea pigs in an laboratory for evolving truly 21st century education where scientific methods will rule the day.

    He’s out of touch. Since when does science rule anything in the 21st century???

    Corporations, financial interests, and power maneuvering among existing elite power blocks is the order of the day. Science as such is increasingly muzzled. — Just look at the whole Global Warming debacle. Or any other area where public policy rubs up against reality. Increasingly the facts are bent to fit the policy.

    Look at the whole austerity movement where reducing deficits were seen as the key to prosperity — Reinhart and Rogoff’s data has been debunked and their analysis shown to be seriously flawed, but is the policy changing? is the rhetoric altering in the halls of power?? We have the information. But what is being done with it to reshape policy directions? It pretty much looks like nothing. What world is Arne Duncan living in that he seems to think science, hard data, and common sense can rule the day?

    Politics doesn’t work that way anymore. I’m not sure it ever did, but it sure as heck doesn’t now. Journalism doesn’t work that way anymore either. Profit motives trump public service more often than not. And that’s especially true for broadcast journalism. Too many news outlets are being owned and operated by financial consortiums and are only a small sector of a junior subsidiary in a much wider empire of assets.

    So he’s completely screwed up on how he sees the big picture. And he’s entirely oblivious to the fact that real students, teachers and staff are in the middle of this testing maelstrom. Is he battening down the hatches, unfurling sails, and stringing ropes? Or offering any kind of help to anyone caught in the storm? No, he’s putting on more steam.

  • Karynb9

    “But again, directionally, having computer-adaptive tests, having the
    ability to evaluate way more than just fill-in-the-bubble stuff — the
    critical thinking skills — directionally, it’s the right way to go.”

    ISTEP is NOT a computer-adaptive test. It’s a test that is given on the computer (well, other than Monday/Tuesday…and only for 1/2 of the kids who WERE going to take it on Wednesday/Thursday/Friday, but whatever), but it is not a computer-adaptive test like NWEA or SRI or other tests that change the questions given during the test based on how a student answers the question. Duncan doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    • kystokes

      But couldn’t you fairly say he was talking about some undefined end goal, where all students are tested using adaptive tests?

      It might be helpful to know the question I asked him, which was something like, ‘Given the fact that the coming of the Common Core means much of the nation will take online exams, are Indiana’s problems a warning that wide-scale online assessments aren’t ready for primetime?’ You could say this question was asking him to nationalize, rather than localize, the issues with ISTEP+.

      • Karynb9

        No, because I would think your question was pretty clearly asking him about whether or not we have the technological infrastructure on a nationwide scale to be able to support online assessments — not whether there was a problem with the general philosophy of online testing. Otherwise, you wouldn’t have references “Indiana’s problems” (which were technological in nature and not about us “arguing philosophy”). I think his answer was a way of dodging your question because he didn’t have much information about the “Indiana problems” you referenced, so he had to babble on about something else. All is not lost, however, as one could point to this exchange as evidence that the federal government is NOT as involved in state educational issues as opponents to the Common Core try to lead people to believe. :-)

        • Debbie

          I beg to differ on you about the Federal Government not having involvement in out state educational issues. They are dictating to the states what they have to do to comply with the rules are for receiving the grant money from RttT. If state don’t comply then they receive no money but are still left with having to arrange their state standards to match CC. Do you remember the 10th Amendment to the Constitution. We are loosing that every time the feds step and say you have to do this or that to get the funding. States need to stand on their own two feet and keep the feds out. CCSS is controlled by the federal government and leaves less control at the local level for the people to decide what they want in their local schools. The DOE needs to be done away with and let the states decide for themselves!

        • Linda174

          You are partially correct. The common core was funded by Gates and is being promoted by corporations, the chamber of commerce and think tanks/”nonprofits” who all receive money from Gates. The federal government and Gates are in cahoots while shoving the corporate bore down our throats.
          So the government is invovled, but they merely carry out the 1% billionaires malanthropist bidding.

          Read more here and see the link below:

          The Common Core State (sic) Standards are the result of hundreds of millions of dollars disbursed in carefully distributed grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation accompanied by the threat from U. S. Secretary Arne Duncan to withhold federal funds if individual states did not sign on the dotted line. I looked at two months worth of press citations praising the CCSS –August and September, 2012–and then looked up the Gates money given to those who come to praise CCSS. The list ranges from the American Federation of Teachers ($1,000,000) to the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction ($823,637), from the neo-liberal Center for American Progress ($2,998,809) to the neo-conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute ($5,711,462). The PTA got money ($2,005,000); so did the National Writing Project ($2,645,593). And so on and so on. He who pays the piper calls the tune, and with money in their pockets, many are eager to sing the Common Core song and eat the funeral meats.

          Although these groups all play a cheerleading role, here are the significant players in deforming school curriculum and testing and their Gates haul.

  • Jeffrey Marks

    Sure, he can shrug it off. His evaluation (if he even has one) and pay are not tied to this “glitch” like it is for millions of teachers.

  • Jocelyn Weeda

    So if it’s all just a business, what are kids? Employees? Slave labor? Just to make a business better or more money? I’m saddened and frustrated by the whole discourse. What is important here? I feel like the leader of our public education system is just about dollar and cents – what about kids?

  • iaviator

    We can thank DFER and Bill Gates for having a business buffoon like Arnie Duncan for Ed Sec. Four terms now of Bush’s Ed policies. how lame can you get?

  • cindy

    We are re-shaping education around technology instead of children. Yuk.

  • Bill Heller

    Words come out of Duncan’s mouth but they are disconnected from any rational thoughts. He is as qualified to lead the ED as “Heck-of-a-job” Brownie was to lead FEMA after Katrina – and both are responsible for human-made disasters of epic proportions!

  • Jolie Lindley

    Arne Duncan is a name I can’t use in a public forum.

  • Repairman632

    The recent spate of comments coming from Duncan and the rest of the corporate reformer cabal are becoming increasingly diversionary and irrational. This signals a number of things. One, they are fully aware that their house of cards is collapsing around them based on the overwhelming weight of evidence that the entire agenda is not based on pedagogical reality, but is an abject failure of ideologically and profit driven garbage which occasionally rises to the level of snake oil. Two, they know that the collapse is not from the churn of any market driven desire for improvement from within their ranks, but due to the ever increasing number of parents and tax payers who have seen through their lies, discovered the truth and will never be fooled again. They cannot gain any more ground via declaring success, so the Orwellian lies are a rear guard action that seeks to divert us from their fall back position of trying to solidify their position by brute force and hold whatever ground they can in the hope that we will grow tired and settle for a truce. Ain’t gonna happen. We know that black is not white.

  • bruce728

    Debbie hit the nail on the head. This is a constitutional issue. I have asked several administrators about this fact and they simply say that is is about the money. We are being extorted by the federal government, and I can’t understand why state officials let it happen. I am not a big fan of libratareians, but they are the only group challenging RttT.

  • I Vote

    Do not forget that Obama chose Arne Duncan. I cannot forgive Obama for the choices he has made re: his cabinet. What a bunch of losers. Look at Pritzer. Obama is just a “kiss” to the elite.

About StateImpact

StateImpact seeks to inform and engage local communities with broadcast and online news focused on how state government decisions affect your lives.
Learn More »