Acknowledging that the nation's educators face large challenges in preparing students for more rigorous academic standards and tests, Arne Duncan, the secretary of education, informed state education officials on Tuesday that they could postpone using the tests to make career decisions about teachers.
Responding to growing complaints from teachers' unions and school administrators that they were being held accountable for results on tests before they had time to adjust to new curriculum standards, Mr. Duncan wrote in a letter to state education officers that they could delay using teacher evaluations for "personnel determinations" by another year.
Over the past 18 months, states have agreed to adopt new "college and career ready" standards and to tether teacher performance ratings partly to student achievement on standardized tests based on those new standards. These changes are part of an agreement with the Department of Education that allowed states to qualify for waivers from No Child Left Behind, the signature Bush-era federal education law. Most states were at risk of violating the most onerous provisions of that law, which required that all children be proficient in math and reading by 2014. The waivers relaxed that requirement in exchange for the new measures on standards and teacher evaluations.
As states have scrambled to revise their public school curriculums and develop the new performance ratings, teachers have complained that they have not had time to learn how to bring the new standards into their classrooms so that students can score well on new tests. They have also complained that they are confused about how to adopt the new standards when many states are still administering old tests.
Teachers' unions have also fought with education officials and lawmakers over the proper role of standardized tests in public schools and, most controversially, in individual ratings of teachers.
Last month, Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, warned that the new standards could be consigned to the "dustbin of history" and proposed that teachers be given a year to master the new curriculums before test results counted in tenure or other personnel decisions.
In his letter to state education chiefs, Mr. Duncan wrote that he appreciated "both the courage to tackle so many challenges at once and the burdens this imposes on frontline educators."
The department will now allow states to apply, in effect, for waivers from their waivers. States that are introducing new tests will also be relieved of having to give both new and old tests in the same school year.
"This decision ensures that the rollout of new, higher, state-selected standards will continue on pace," Mr. Duncan said in a statement, "but that states that need it will have some flexibility in when they begin using student growth data for high-stakes decisions."
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.