So educators don't get the summer off. Yes, it can be a time of rest and relaxation, but it's also a time for preparation, training, and study. This summer, in particular, educators around our state have been getting ready to implement our new teacher evaluation system, with framework instruction, calibration trainings, and local bargaining.
After all this, what sort of news do we get, now, at the end of the summer? Well, we're at risk. The Department of Education sent our state a warning letter saying that our state teacher evaluation system does not comply with the waiver requirements for the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA or No Child Left Behind)--our state has been placed on "high-risk" status.
So what's the problem? Well, the U.S. Department of Education is not satisfied with the way Washington state law ties teacher evaluation to state tests. Current state law (5895) reads as follows: “Student growth data…must be based on multiple measures that can include classroom-based, school-based, district-based, and state-based tools.”
The issue? The word "can" as it relates to the state-based tools. Instead of "can include" state tests, this warning letter is looking for something more along the lines of "must include" state tests.
How could our state address this?
If state tests were required for evaluation, one possibility is that we could end up with two separate teacher evaluation systems in Washington state, one system for teachers with state tests, one system for teachers without them. I teach tenth grade biology. I don't know how student growth could be measured by the Biology End of Course Exam, since it is only given once at the end of the year, but if it were, that could mean that my teacher evaluation score would depend on state tests while the history teacher's evaluation, just next door, would not, as there is no state test in history. The possibility exists that a value added measure could be attached to end of course exams through a multivariate model—this is a controversial idea.
Another alternative? Evaluate teachers in teams. What's this all about? Here's the language from the high-risk warning letter:
"Since under Washington state law student growth data elements may include the teacher's performance as a member of a grade level, subject matter, or other instructional team within a school, along with the amended request, Washington must provide business rules defining these teams of teachers and explaining how student growth is calculated for a team. Washington must also provide data to demonstrate that Washington's use of shared attribution of student growth does not mask high or low performance of educators."
Again, our state assessment system just won't work for this. Should the physical science teachers in my school be evaluated based on my biology students' test scores? What about the PE and band teachers? Should they be evaluated based on overall school or grade level student scores on state tests? This has actually happened in other states, and it makes little sense!
Requiring teacher evaluation to be tied to student sores on state tests is not a system that will work well in Washington state (or probably any state for that matter!). Our state student assessment system just doesn't fit with our state teacher evaluation program, nor should it. Forcing an alignment between the two will neither improve state education nor result in an increase in student learning.