Suspicions Confirmed: Testing Action Plan is Trojan Horse

Four years ago, Tom Vander Ark (former executive at the Gates Foundation, current partner at Learn Capital) wrote in an email exchange with members of the Foundation for Excellence in Education and the Council for Chief State School Officers:

 “New tests will hinder rather than help competency-based models…In short, I don’t want one big cheap end of year test used for more than it should be…I don’t want it to lock in the teacher-centric age cohort model for another decade. I don’t want simple assessments…I want a system that will incorporate all the performance feedback that students will be receiving a few years from now.”

Mr. Vander Ark, who is also a board member of a group called Global Education Futures, which recently put out this document that calls for turning “live education” into a “premium service” and advocates for the development of “competence profile(s)…that would record current state and development of individual’s knowledge & skills across different domains of professional & social life, and would accompany individuals throughout their life,” appears to have had a hand in the “Testing Action Plan” that was released by the White House this weekend.

According to the White House document, “A set-aside of $25 million would support competitive projects to help states develop innovative, new assessment models and address pressing needs they have identified for developing and implementing their assessments. This could include competency-based assessment.

“The Administration will invite states that wish to request waivers of federal rules that stand in the way of innovative approaches to testing to work with the Department to promote high-quality, comparable, statewide measures. For example, the Department granted a temporary waiver to New Hampshire to pilot a competency-based assessment system in four districts.”

“The Department will also “establish “office hours” for any state or district that wishes to consult on how it can best reduce testing but still meet its policy objectives and requirements under the law; will engage in proactive outreach to states and districts on this topic; and will bring in experts to advise the Department, states, and districts on this work. The Department will also share tools already available to do this work, including The Council of Chief State School Officers’ Comprehensive Statewide Assessment Systems: A Framework for the Role of the State Education Agency.”

A shift to competency-based education has been in the works a least a decade, with the American Legislative Exchange Council, the Gates Foundation, and the Foundation for Excellence in Education (among others) at the helm of this shift.

The Council for Chief State School Officers has received upwards of 90 million dollars in grants from the Gates Foundation in the past 6 years, much of it for the purpose of transitioning states  to competency-based models.

The Common Core State Standards are a key piece of this transformation, as are the billions of dollars that have been invested in digital and online learning companies.

Several weeks ago, in a post called “Cashing in on Opt Out,” I wondered if investors like Vander Ark would be laughing all the way to the bank if SBAC and PARCC failed.

Pardon the absurd online photoshop job, but…looks like he’s on his way.


Let’s stop him.


Author: Emily Talmage

My name is Emily Talmage and I teach fourth grade at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, Maine. In addition to teaching in Lewiston, I have also taught special education and general education in New York City, including one year at a “high-performing” charter school in Brooklyn. I also have two master’s degrees; one in Urban Education from Mercy College, and another in Developmental Psychology from Teachers College, Columbia University. I have also worked as a research analyst and assistant at the National Center for Children and Families at Columbia and Oldham Innovative Research in Portland.

24 thoughts on “Suspicions Confirmed: Testing Action Plan is Trojan Horse”

  1. This is the best I can do for a comment. is an online math tutoring company.
    Here is an example of their offering:

    Mathway example
    Solve for x
    Move all terms that don’t contain x to the right-hand side and solve.

    I cried !

    Read more from

    Can we expect better from others ??????????????


  2. Teacher: “Johnny, I think you are ready for the negative numbers test. Go into the sealed, sound proofed room and come out when you’ve passed the test. You can have as many attempts as you want.”
    Johnny cries, remembering the sixteen hours he spent in the sealed, soundproofed room til he passed his adding fractions test.


  3. What kind of sick people would want to inflict this on children–would want to cage all of our young people this way? Can they be punished for what they have inflicted on others, and what they wish to inflict on others? This is one way to drive all young people to despair and suicide.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What kind of people? People who stand to make a LOT of money. People who run Corporations that stand to make a LOT of money (selling standardized tests, developing standardized tests, selling cheaper (not professionally-trained) teachers, selling scripts for school districts to make their teachers use to get their classes to get higher scores on completely bogus tests (that have no demonstrable educational merit, etc., etc., ..)

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you for all your work. You are very prescient. I just came across this RAND report. It’s about a pilot program for competency-based learning in Colorado, Philadelphia (where I live), and at the Asia Society. I think it has information that is part of this puzzle. I see a connection to out-of-school-time programming. They are pushing to have school credit be given for projects done outside of the school day, which will further marginalize teachers. Lots of language in her about not trusting the judgement of teachers to administer appropriate grades and how standardized assessments are needed to ensure consistency.


  5. Pingback: Save Maine Schools

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