In Focus: Test-based evaluations wasteful, ineffective

March 7, 2014 

In its Feb. 28 editorial, the Tri-City Herald editorial board criticized Sen. Sharon Brown for her vote on SB 5246 (Teacher and Principal Evaluation Process). In my opinion, Brown did her homework and voted correctly. She understands that the use of state tests in teacher evaluations won’t be appropriate until: 1) the state testing system becomes stable, valid and reliable; and 2) test results are received before teacher evaluations are due and school year growth can be measured by fall and spring state tests. Use of data in evaluations The Kennewick School District is a supporter of using appropriate, reliable and valid data in teacher evaluations. Many teachers use Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) and Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills (DIBELS) to track student progress in reading and math from the start to the end of the school year. Teachers prefer these tests over state testing for a variety of reasons, including that the data is reliable, easy to obtain and results are available on testing day. Teachers have confidence in the validity and reliability of these tests and use the data in evaluations. So, why should we avoid using current state testing to evaluate teachers? Ever-changing tests The state has changed its state assessment system multiple times in the past five years and is changing it again. The state is currently piloting the new Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) tests, which will be implemented statewide next year. These tests do not have a history of reliability and validity, because they have not been administered to all Washington students for multiple years. Timeline To include student growth data as part of a teacher’s evaluation, the data must be available prior to when the state requires teacher evaluations to be completed. Under state law, teacher evaluations must be completed by May 15. State testing doesn’t conclude until June and the data for the current year’s students isn’t available until July — two months after teacher evaluation deadlines. Annual growth To determine student academic growth specifically related to what happened during a school year, students must be tested at the beginning and end of the school year. State testing only occurs at the end of the school year. A proposed work-around is to use the scores for the child from theprevious school year in the spring and measure growth from spring to spring, but that fails to recognize that different students have different summer experiences. Typically, students from more affluent families continue to make academic growth during the summer while students from less affluent families generally don’t experience summer growth. This alone would invalidate a spring to spring growth analysis. Additionally, schools with the most struggling students tend to have the highest student turnover and often have students who haven’t been enrolled for both the fall and spring testing. Federal dollars The federal government has threatened to return to implementing the penalties of No Child Left Behind (NCLB) if Washington doesn’t use statewide tests in teacher evaluations. Twenty percent of the federal dollars a district receives would have to be set aside for students to obtain Supplemental Educational Services (SES) from outside providers. In Kennewick, we would have to set aside $700,000 for this purpose. In addition, all schools in the state would be deemed failing under NCLB, even while they win awards for excellence in advanced placement or student growth, for example. The federal government is well aware that when this was done previously, many SES providers did very little for the students they were paid to help and that most of those dollars were wasted. Now the feds suggest that unless we change the teacher evaluation system, they are willing to go back to a system they know is unproductive and wasteful. At some point, we have to ask why the federal government, which provides about 10 percent of school funding, gets to determine how teachers are evaluated? In conclusion, Sen. Brown consulted with local education leaders to carefully research SB 5246, and once she understood the significant issues associated with the bill, she correctly decided to vote against it. I commend her for that vote. Dave Bond is superintendent of the Kennewick School District.

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