Delinking student test scores and teacher evaluations would harm students

Delinking student test scores and teacher evaluations would make it harder to see which students and schools need more help.

Students in a classroom

Students in a classroom

Lawmakers in Albany are meddling again with teacher evaluations and student testing.

Our elected representatives have caused chaos and confusion by repeatedly making piecemeal changes to New York’s teacher evaluation system.

This month, once again, the state Assembly passed a bill forbidding statewide tests – which measure student achievement, as mandated by federal law – from being used in teacher evaluations, which will require districts to create their own tests.

These changes would upend the current teacher evaluation system, result in more testing, and mask the inequity that exists across districts.

As a teacher, I know it is crucial to have informative and fair professional feedback. I want to grow and become the educator my students deserve. I learn how to do that through supportive and constructive feedback from school leaders, a careful analysis of my students’ growth over the course of the year, and by listening to the perspectives of my colleagues, my students and other stakeholders.

Since its creation in 2010, lawmakers have constantly tinkered with New York’s teacher evaluation system – usually at the end of the legislative session. I cannot better myself professionally if the goalposts are being moved every other year.

This year’s proposed changes would again create upheaval and chaos by shifting what teachers are being evaluated on, muddle my feedback and strip me of tools to fight for my students.

Even more disheartening to parents and teachers alike, this legislation would give us more tests. Because the bill forbids the use of statewide tests, which are currently used in teacher evaluations and to measure student achievement, districts would be required to create new tests to be given alongside federally mandated state tests (like the Regents exams and 3-8 grade-level tests). This means New York students would be tested once to measure student achievement and a second time to measure student achievement for teacher evaluations, which means one test is high stakes for students and the other test is high stakes for teachers. Any teacher would tell you that this makes no sense. We should continue to use the same assessment to measure the progress of our schools, our teachers and our students so there is less testing and aligned incentives.

This proposal is so poorly thought through that they accidentally proposed potentially doubling the amount of testing students are subjected to by forcing districts to create a new assessment just to measure teacher performance instead of using the test that our students are already required to take by federal law to measure their learning and growth.

Objective measures of student learning have been crucial tools in the civil rights fight to ensure schools that have historically been underfunded and ignored by lawmakers get the support, resources and quality educators they deserve. Prior to 2010 and the creation of a system that objectively measures student performance, a lack of data masked the vast discrepancies in student achievement and the soft bigotry of low expectations for students of color and from low-income families. Without this data, we are unable to compare the only objective measure of teacher performance across districts to see if inequity exists along racial and economic differences and where we need to spend our tax dollars to provide additional resources and support for teachers.

Under the current system, we can target our tax dollars to schools that desperately need the support and resources needed to give their kids an excellent education. The proposed changes introduced last week will rob us of crucial tools to fight against inequities within our school system by creating a confusing web of tests and standards. Comparing schools will become more difficult, if not impossible.

During my career, I have experienced the flaws in the current testing and evaluation systems. We must continue to improve our assessments by moving them online so that they can be more adaptive, meaning they can adjust based on a student’s ability, and developmentally appropriate for all of our kids, including those with disabilities and those new to the country who are just learning English. Additionally, we must find a way to help teachers who face biased or ill-trained human evaluators. There are innovative teacher-leaders thinking deeply about policies to make tests and evaluations more accurate and useful, and less stressful for students and teachers. Yet their representatives did not include any of these ideas in their solution.

During May’s Teacher Appreciation Month, state lawmakers decided to ignore the diligent process the state Education Department recently began to evaluate what improvements should be made to New York’s teacher evaluation system. Thousands of teachers gave their feedback, but lawmakers rushed to introduce a bill that doesn’t address many of the serious concerns teachers have and creates new issues for many teachers, students and parents. If our leaders are serious about reforming teacher evaluations and student testing, they should take the time to listen to a broad group of diverse teachers and learn about what we really want from this system.

I don’t have the answers for what a perfect teacher evaluation system looks like, but I do know that one that results in more tests and more inequity and ignores the current deliberative process undertaken by the Education Department is not the answer.