News Tip: Duke Experts Criticize Linking Stimulus Money To School Test Scores

Deadline for public comments on proposed rules is Aug. 28

Two Duke University education experts have serious concerns about the Obama administration's proposal to link teacher evaluations to student tests scores as a criterion for how much federal stimulus money states will receive for K-12 education.

Friday (Aug. 28) is the deadline to submit public comments on the proposal that will disperse more than $4 billion in grants. The U.S. Department of Education has said it will issue its final rules sometime after the deadline.

Helen F. Ladd, the Edgar Thompson Professor of Public Policy at Duke, says that while student test scores play a role in the overall effort to improve schools, the proposed regulations "give them a pride of place that will lead to little good and is likely to do much harm."

"The main problem with the heavy focus of the proposed test-based approach is that it ratchets up the pernicious narrow test-based approach to education represented by No Child Left Behind," Ladd says in comments she has submitted on the proposal.

"The approach is narrow in part because the requirement that all students be tested every year means that students can be tested in only a limited number of subjects. The result is a heavy emphasis on the basic skills of math and reading, to the detriment of other skills and orientations that young people need to become effective participants in the global society.

"Further, the emphasis on test results for individual teachers will exacerbate the well-documented incentives for teachers to focus on narrow test-taking skills and drilling. It is time to move beyond this misplaced emphasis on test scores in a few subjects to return to the broader goals of education that have been such an important part of our history."

Ladd, whose research focuses mostly on education policy, can be contacted at (919) 613-7352 or (A full copy of her comments to the DOE can be provided on request to More information about Ladd is available at

Kristen R. Stephens, assistant professor of the practice of education at Duke, says the impact of external variables on a teacher also must be taken into account when evaluating them.

"How would you compare the evaluation of a poor teacher working in a suburban school with less diversity (both economic and cultural) with a superior teacher working in an inner city school with predominantly low socio-economic students who are English language learners? I would imagine the poor teacher would receive a higher mark with regard to student achievement, even though student success might mean more attributable to other conditions. Meanwhile, the superior teacher working with more challenging students would not receive the recognition deserved for even making the smallest of strides.

"I worry that such a teacher evaluation practice might only serve to further widen the achievement gap, as our most challenging schools would be confronted with another barrier in securing highly qualified teachers. After all, if you knew your evaluation was contingent on student achievement, wouldn't you gravitate to those schools where you would have the greatest likelihood of meeting this condition?"

Stephens, whose research interests include teacher preparation and leadership, can be reached at (919) 660-3083 or For more about Stephens, see _ _ _ _

Note to broadcast editors: Duke provides an on-campus satellite uplink facility for live or pre-recorded television interviews. We are also equipped with ISDN connectivity for radio interviews. Broadcast reporters should contact Scott Wells at (919) 660-1741 or James Todd at (919) 681-8061 to arrange an interview.