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Mark Gardner | Assessment, Current Affairs, Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Professional Development, Teacher Leadership | August 21, 2013

Test Scores and Teacher Evaluation: Now What?


File521431c138930There are few things worse than being fired up and not knowing what to do next.

That is where I find myself with the recent discussion about student growth, teacher evaluation, and the federal government. (Chances are you've already read a little about this from me, Tom, Maren and Kristin.)

But here's where I get stuck. It is easy for me to sit here at my desktop and engage in discourse with my peers about how misguided is the federal position on using one-shot test scores to evaluate teachers. In discussion here, on facebook, on other blogs, and even in old-fashioned face-to-face conversation, I've discovered that there are a lot of very intelligent people talking about this issue. (CSTP even noted that the traffic on this blog has spiked by a couple thousand pageviews in the last few days alone.)

For other issues, I've known to whom to go: my local leadership, state legislators, and so on. With this one, though, I truly don't know what to do next. Conversation needs to continue, for sure. At some point it needs to translate to action, or else this is all just a bunch of cached webpages.

Brainstorm with me, if you will: What can you and I do next? Who do we talk to? Is there hope? And what do we do once we've ignored the people who answer "no" to that last question?

If nothing else, let's keep the conversation going--and invite others to join in.


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I think Seattle has handled this well. Contract negotiations are currently in the 11th hour, so I hope the district has stayed the course of sense.

Right now, teachers of tested subjects receive "student growth ratings," which are stupid, they really are, and in my next post I'll show why. BUT, if a teacher falls in the "low growth" category, it 1) means the administrator has to take a close look (more observations) at classroom practice and 2) the teacher has access to $500 in professional development. It's actually a good way to go about it. As I've found, and as I'll write about, student growth really raises more questions than it provides answers.

Washington could meet Fed demands and still qualify for much-needed federal dollars if we use test scores as one part of a teacher's evaluation, and as simply one more piece of information that may lead the hunt for student success in the right direction.

As I see it, there are three possible responses:

1. Acquiesce. Change TPEP to reflect the Department of Education’s demands. This would probably be the easiest response. The problem is one of misrepresentation; acceptance looks a lot like agreement. When you quietly do what you’re told, those who are telling you what to do can only assume you like what you’re doing.

2. Rejection. We could try to keep TPEP as is and reject the waiver, thus forfeiting all federal education funding. This would be really stupid. Make no mistake: Using test scores for teacher evaluation is the bathwater, getting the waiver is the baby. Losing federal funding is a non-starter, especially for those of us who teach in Title 1 schools. And as for public support, you would be hard-pressed to find 17 non-teachers in Washington who would agree to forfeit federal funding in lieu of a fairer evaluation system.

3. Seek understanding. We could have a conversation with some of the other stakeholders at the federal and state level. This would be my preference. First of all, however, we would need to keep two things in mind. Two propositions, if you will. Proposition 1: The people at the federal level are neither evil nor stupid and they sincerely want the best for our students. They really do. Proposition 2: These people are all about data driven decisions. And there is no decision more important than who gets to teach our students. Likewise, there is no data more important than those students’ test scores. Although you and I may think it perfectly possible for a good teacher’s student to score poorly on a state test, this creates an overwhelming cognitive dissonance for most other stakeholders.

I am convinced that teachers and non-teaching stakeholders, should they engage in a productive conversation would find that they have much more in common than not. For example, as I read the letter from Duncan’s office to Dorn’s office, it doesn’t look like they specify how much weight state tests should carry. It merely insists that state tests be used as a factor. While this might seem wrong to you and me, it doesn’t seem completely unworkable. And it’s at least a good place to start the discussion.

To this end, I think one person we might want to engage in this discussion is Lisa Clarke, a teacher from Washington State who is currently working in Washington DC on a Teaching Ambassador Fellowship. Her role, as I understand it, is to do exactly what we need done: help facilitate a dialog between the two Washingtons so that we can work together towards the common goal of student learning.

Hey Mark,
I write (in my head) when I run as well :)

Good places to start. On my run this morning, I drafted (in my head) a letter to send to any stakeholder who'd care to read it... the gist has already been shared here on sfs.

What to do about this issue? Well brainstorming seems to be a good place to start! Here's a few ideas:

People to talk to:

1) The leader(s) of OSPI who deal directly with the US Department of Education on negotiating the waiver.

2) Our two state senators and their staff. They could be influential partners.

3) Our representatives in congress. The long term solution is to change ESEA.

4) Remember Chad Aldeman from a previous series of blog posts and comments here?

Well, he is making a reappearance in commenting on this issue:
Chad Aldeman might not agree with us, but if we could somehow engage members of other think tanks and media who agree with us on this issue, that could be helpful.

Some possible actions (again, I'm not recommending any one of these options particularly, I'm just brainstorming!):

1) Ignore the warning as a state and forgo the money. Let our schools be labeled as failing when 100% of students do not meet standard. The whole premise of ESEA/NCLB is ridiculous anyway. Engage the public in some way on this.

2) Our state law and the warning letter still allow for multiple measures. In state decisions or local bargaining, make sure to keep emphasizing the measures that are closer to the classroom and are not state tests. However, the options available through local bargaining appear to be somewhat of a target in the warning letter:

"Specifically, in accordance with Washington state law, a local educational agency (LEA--school district) has discretion as to whether or not to include data from statewide assessments in determining a teacher's student growth rating. Since Washington's rules on the incorporation of student growth as a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluation systems do not incorporate the ESEA Flexibility definition of student growth, and Washington has not yet committed to requiring all LEAS to incorporate the results of statewide assessments as a measure of student growth beginning in the 2014-2015 school year, the rules that Washington submitted regarding the use of student growth as a significant factor in teacher and principal evaluation and support systems are insufficient to address this condition."

3) Think of some really creative solution palatable to the parties involved, present it to OSPI, then OSPI can convince the Dept. of Ed that we found the way in Washington state. Maybe work with Oregon, our neighboring state who also received a warning, on this.

What are some other ideas?

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