Why Common Core SBAC results SHOULD NOT be part of the teacher evaluation process

On March 7, 2016 the Connecticut General Assembly’s Education Committee held a public hearing on Senate Bill 380, An Act Concerning the Exclusion of Student Performance Results on the Mastery Examination from Teacher Evaluations.

Those speaking at the public hearing fell into two camps.

Parents, teachers, school administrators, public education advocates and experts all speaking in favor of the legislation that would drop the use of the unfair, inappropriate and discriminatory Common Core tests from Governor Dannel Malloy’s teacher evaluation program.

On the other side were the lobbyists and paid spokespeople for the corporate education reform industry and their allies, including a handful of public school superintendents.  As a group, corporate education form front groups have spent in excess of $7 million lobbying on behalf of Malloy’s pro-charter school, pro-Common Core, pro-Common Core testing and anti-teacher initiatives.  As a result of their efforts, in conjunction with the Malloy administration, public schools are being turned into little more than testing factories and more than $100 million a year in scarce taxpayer funds are being diverted away from public education to privately owned charter school companies in Connecticut.

One of the most negative elements of their “education reform” initiatives was a new and warped teacher evaluation program that requires that students Common Core test results be a significant factor in assessing teachers, rather than a system in which teachers are evaluated based on the factors that correctly measure whether they are doing a good job.

Yesterday’s Wait, What? post entitled, Speaking out for decoupling Common Core testing from the teacher evaluation process (Part 1), reported on the testimony of Madison Superintendent Thomas Scarice who laid out the reasons standardized test scores SHOULD NOT be part of teacher evaluation process.

Wendy Lecker, a fellow education advocate and education columnist, who works as an attorney specializing in education equity law, used her testimony to the Education Committee to explain why standardized testing, of any kind, has no scientifically sound or appropriate role in the teacher evaluation process;

The weight of evidence demonstrates that the use of standardized tests in teacher evaluations is junk science.

As the American Statistical Association maintains, teachers account for only 1-14 percent of the variance in student standardized test scores. Joining the ASA and others, the American Educational Research Association recently declared that it is almost impossible to disentangle this tiny teacher effect on student test scores from other in-school and out-of-school factors.

A New Mexico court recently blocked that state’s test-based teacher evaluation system because there is no scientific evidence proving that such a system is valid. Standardized achievement tests were not designed to be instructionally sensitive, i.e. show what or how well a teacher teaches.

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With the passage of the new federal law replacing the No Child Left Behind Law (NCLB), Connecticut now has a unique opportunity to rethink its flawed teacher evaluation system. In response first to the federal Race to the Top grant and then the NCLB waiver mandates, Connecticut developed a teacher and principal evaluation system calling for student standardized test scores to be a part of a teacher and principal’s effectiveness rating. Under the federal law replacing NCLB, the Every Student Succeeds Act (“ESSA”), the federal government no longer requires states to link student standardized test scores to teacher evaluations.

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Test scores are simple, readily available measures, but they are completely inappropriate for use in teacher evaluations. As the renowned testing expert, W. James Popham, noted, using standardized tests to evaluate teachers is like measuring temperature with a tablespoon. Rather than construct an evaluation process based on what is easiest to measure, shouldn’t we start with an examination of the type of skills we want in teachers?

Determining whether a teacher has those skills will require us to rely on the professional judgment of administrators and other teachers who observe a teacher’s practices, the work she assigns, and her students’ work.

The state can provide guidelines but it is time start trusting professional educators again. Teaching and learning are complex human endeavors that will never be properly reduced to numbers. Connecticut now has the opportunity and moral duty to right the wrong being done to our teachers and students.

Many others were equally persuasive in their testimony.

Dr. Linette Branham, a retired school educator wrote;

Research done over the past decade, as well as the perspective of Connecticut’s public school educators on the use of the current teacher evaluation guidelines, has shown time and again how inappropriate it is to base the evaluation of a teacher on standardized test scores. The reasons are clear, simple, and logical, including the following:

  1. Standardized tests are not designed to evaluate teacher performance.

  2. Such tests do not show growth over time; they provide a snapshot of student performance on a given day and hour.

  3. Standardized test results don’t take into account how factors outside of a teacher’s control impact student performance on the day the test is taken; these include factors such as whether or not the student slept and ate well prior to the test, social and emotional occurrences (e.g., student’s parents are going through a divorce, there is a serious illness in the family, student had an argument with a best friend just before the class in which the test is given, student doesn’t feel well that day).

  4. What’s tested on the test may not match the district curriculum in skill and content.

  5. Students show what they know in many other, often more appropriate, ways, such as through oral or visual modes.

  6. The standardized test may not be developmentally appropriate for the students.

Dr. Jacob Werblow, an Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership at Central Connecticut State University, Harber Fellow of Education at Wesleyan University, and the President of the Connecticut Coalition for Real Learning added;

After 15 years of mandated testing under the No Child Left Behind Law, what do standardized test scores actually tell us about school and teacher quality? The answer: almost nothing. In 2012, one of my graduate students and I explored this question using data of 191 high schools in Connecticut and found that multiple linear regressions revealed that 69% of the difference (variance) in a school’s average student achievement can be explained by the percentage of students living in poverty. In other words, nearly 70% of the difference in the average achievement scores among all Connecticut High Schools is directly attributed to the percentages of poor kids enrolled in each school. Therefore, there is only 30% of the variance left to attribute to any factors related to differences in schools (or teachers).

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…differences in average standardized test score performance has little to do with teacher or school quality. This is something that national experts (i.e., David Berliner, Linda Darling-Hammond, Diane Ravitch, etc.) have been consistently saying for years. This is because nearly all of the variability in test score performance lies in the demographic differences among the student.

Rose Reyes a Bilingual Educator and expert on improving educational achievement for students who are not proficient in English told legislators;

In May 2015, the online article, The Case Against Standardized Testing – Harvard Political (harvardpolitics.com/united-states/case-standardized-testing/)  explained, again, how standardized testing focus negatively impacted curriculum and student learning as well as how it compromised teacher evaluations.

Students are not receiving a well-rounded education and teachers’ value is reduced by a metric.

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In our district we have State, district and common formative assessments. In fact, we have tests for the tests. A third grader can experience as many as seven assessments in a month and all we can show for this duress is what we have shown for decades: (socioeconomic) class follows scores.

An ASCD (Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) 2013 article, recognizes that standardized tests “favor those who have socioeconomic advantages” (ASCD EDge – 15 Reasons Why Standardized Tests are … edge.ascd.org/…/15-reasons-why-standardized-tests-are-problematic) which is why attaching such a metric to teacher evaluations seemed inappropriate. We are still at an impasse in the understanding that when an Emergent Bilingual student attains a proficiency level in their second language it is still inappropriate to test them for mastery in ELA and language embedded math. What is best for EB students is best practice of experiences and cooperative learning. These elements are not quantifiable yet priceless.

SB 380 can be the stepping stone to re-evaluating our evaluation system. By excluding the use of student scores on statewide mastery examinations in teacher evaluations curriculum emphasis can return to a well-rounded experience instead of the narrow focus of artificial achievement in the form of test preparation.

In addition, the Education Committee heard from many others who articulated why standardized tests scores should not be part of the teacher evaluation process in Connecticut.  You can read some of that testimony via the following links

Christine Ladd: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Christine%20Ladd-TMY.PDF

Sheila Cohen: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Connecticut%20Education%20Association-TMY.PDF

Dan Blanchard: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Dan%20Blanchard%20-TMY.PDF

David Cicarella:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-David%20Cicarella-TMY.PDF

Jason Morris: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Jason%20Morris%20-TMY.PDF

John Bestor: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-John%20Bestor%20-TMY.PDF

Kathleen Koljian:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Kathleen%20Koljian-TMY.PDF

Kim-Nagy Maruschock: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Kim%20Nagy-Maruschock-TMY.PDF

Martin Walsh:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Martin%20H.%20Walsh%20-TMY.PDF

Patti Fusco:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Patti%20Fusco%20-TMY.PDF

Roxanne Amlot:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Patti%20Fusco%20-TMY.PDF

Scott Minnick:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Scott%20A.%20Minnick%20-TMY.PDF

Ed Leavy:  https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-State%20Vocational%20Federation%20of%20Teachers-TMY.PDF

Tom Kuroski: https://www.cga.ct.gov/2016/eddata/tmy/2016SB-00380-R000307-Tom%20Kuroski,%20President,%20Newtown%20Federation%20of%20Teachers%20-TMY.PDF

Additional testimony, including that of the pro-Common Core testing forces, can be found at: https://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/CommDocTmyBill.asp?comm_code=ed&bill=SB-00380&doc_year=2016