President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of education, billionaire Betsy DeVos, appeared to stumble on a basic policy question about how to measure student progress during her confirmation hearing before the Senate education committee (video below).
The exchange between her and Democratic Sen. Al Franken of Minnesota, where she indicated that she did not understand the difference between student growth and proficiency, was one of several tense grillings that the nominee received from Senate Democrats.
On Jan. 17, DeVos took questions from before Congress about her qualifications to run the Department of Education.
The confirmation hearing got off to a heated start when the committee’s chairman, Republican Sen. Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, ruled that his colleagues would only have one round of five minutes apiece to question DeVos, drawing vocal complaints from Democratic lawmakers, The New York Times reports.
The limited window for questioning did not prevent several Democratic senators from grilling DeVos on her understanding of education policy. Franken asked the Michigan-based philanthropist about whether she believed that a student’s growth or proficiency should be the measuring stick to judge test scores.
“I think that if I am understanding your question correctly around proficiency, I would correlate it to competency and mastery, so each student according to the advancements they are making in each subject area,” DeVos answered.
“That’s growth,” responded Franken, appearing exasperated. “That’s not proficiency.”
DeVos ultimately ran out of time to answer Franken’s question within the five-minute allotment. In education policy, proficiency is measuring whether or not students hit set benchmarks in their education, whereas growth is judging their progress relative to where they had started.
The administration of former President George W. Bush had emphasized measuring proficiency by passing the now-expired No Child Left Behind law while President Barack Obama’s administration has opted to measure growth with the Every Student Succeeds Act. Deciding on which metric to judge student achievement on helps lawmakers decide whether or not certain schools deserve funding.
DeVos also made another mistake when she indicated that she did not know that the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, which calls for accommodations for students with special needs in public schools, is federal law.
Democratic Sen. Maggie Hassan of New Hampshire asked DeVos whether or not she would use the IDEA to ensure that students with disabilities are given full access to public education. DeVos responded that she believed the issue should be decided by the states, The Boston Globe reports.
“That’s a federal civil rights law,” Hassan responded. “So do you stand by your statement a few minutes ago that it should be up the to states whether to follow it?”
DeVos said that it should be enforced in all states, prompting Hassan to ask whether or not she had known that the IDEA was a federal law.
“I may have confused it,” DeVos said.