Education

Jefferson County Public Schools Superintendent Marty Pollio is asking U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh for changes to the federally mandated standardized tests that have defined public education policy for the past two decades.

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh (second from right meets with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and business leaders.Jess Clark | wfpl.org

U.S. Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh (second from right meets with Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer, JCPS Superintendent Marty Pollio and business leaders.

Pollio made the request during Walsh’s visit to Doss High School in south Louisville. Walsh was touring the school’s manufacturing lab and credit union, both part of the Academies of Louisville, which gives high school students training and certifications in a number of trades.

“The biggest hurdle, or prevention, from this type of education happening all across America, and the biggest threat to us keeping it going, is standardized tests,” Pollio told Walsh. 

Pollio acknowledged the Labor Secretary does not oversee K-12 education—that’s usually the purview of U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona. 

But Pollio said the federal government’s emphasis on testing “drives the bus” on how schools educate students: it makes it harder for schools to devote time and resources to teaching vocational skills, which are usually not on standardized tests.

“We have got to find a way to reframe accountability,” Pollio said. “I believe in accountability for schools, but it needs to be more authentic … Democrat or Republican, for the last three decades it’s all been about test and punish.”

Kentucky expanded standardized testing in public schools in 1990 with the Kentucky Education Reform Act. In 2001, use of standardized testing grew in Kentucky and across the country after Congress passed No Child Left Behind.

Pollio’s request comes at a potential turning point for standardized testing in education policy. Testing has long had critics, but in recent years, some high-profile officials have joined the cause.

On Tuesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, announced a proposal to dramatically roll back standardized testing in his state’s schools.

President Joe Biden criticized standardized testing on the campaign trail, even promising at a crowd of educators in 2019 that he would end the practice. He later surprised education leaders when his administration required schools to return to federally mandated testing amid the pandemic.

Walsh said he “can’t disagree” with Pollio’s comments and that he would talk with Cardona.

The labor secretary has been touring the country promoting Biden’s $3.5 trillion “Build Back Better” plan, which includes big investments in workforce development and could support programs like the Academies of Louisville.

“There are people in the state of Kentucky that need to go to work, want to get into the middle class, want to get good-paying jobs,” Walsh said.

The Build Back Better plan passed the U.S. senate without any Republican support earlier this month, and faces an uncertain future in the House. Republicans say the plan is too expensive.

Jess Clark is WFPL's Education and Learning Reporter.