Key Policy Letters from the Education Secretary and Deputy Secretary
September 2, 2010
Archived Information

September 2, 2010

Dear Governors:

In June 2009, I announced that the Department would reserve approximately $350 million of the total $4.35 billion appropriated for the Race to the Top program for a separate Race to the Top Assessment competition in order to support consortia of states in designing and implementing common, high-quality assessments aligned with a common set of rigorous, college- and career-ready, K-12 standards.  

Through the Race to the Top Assessment program, the Department invited consortia of states to apply for two categories of grants:

Comprehensive Assessment Systems Grants, to fund the development of new assessment systems that measure student knowledge and skills against a common set of college- and career-ready standards in mathematics and English language arts. These assessments could replace those currently used under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

High School Course Assessment Program Grants, to support states in their high school improvement efforts by funding end-of-course assessments across a diverse set of courses that measure student knowledge and skills against a common set of rigorous expectations.  These assessments would have no federal accountability “stakes.”

Today, I am pleased to announce that the Department will make Race to the Top Assessment grants in the Comprehensive Assessment Systems category to the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers and the SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium.  Both awards include full funding for development of the assessments proposed in the applications submitted by the two consortia and full funding of the optional budget modules they submitted.  However, after a comprehensive review and careful consideration of the recommendation of the expert peer reviewers that scored the application, the Department has elected not to fund a High School Course Assessment Program grant.

The Department established the Race to the Top Assessment program in direct response to the leadership governors have shown in developing and adopting common, college- and career-ready standards.  The development of new assessments aligned with these standards is critical to the successful implementation of the standards.

The Race to the Top Assessment program provides an unprecedented opportunity to address the concerns of teachers, administrators, parents, and policymakers regarding the limitations of the tests currently in use.  This next generation of assessments will provide more valid information about what students know and can do.  The data these assessments produce will support a culture of continuous improvement in education by providing information that can be used meaningfully and in a timely way to inform students and their families about how they are doing, to guide instruction, to improve programs, and to identify professional development and support needs. 

Forty-four states and the District of Columbia rose to this challenge and are part of the winning consortia.  These states enroll 85 percent of the students in America.  Overall, the Department and our peer reviewers were enormously impressed by the quality and thought behind the applications, by the innovation and creativity displayed, and by the efforts to trail blaze new and better approaches to assessment.

I congratulate and salute you for your hard work, and look forward to continuing to work with the consortia to support your efforts to develop the next generation of assessment systems that will benefit educators, students, and families across the country.

  Arne Duncan

cc: Chief State School Officers
  State School Board Presidents

Last Modified: 09/02/2010