New York State

Proposed teacher evaluation reform won’t mean more student testing

The bill currently in Albany would de-emphasize standardized tests

A student taking a standardized test

A student taking a standardized test sutham/Shutterstock

Trying to knock down the myths and misinformation about proposed legislation to fix the state’s broken testing and teacher evaluation system is like playing Whack-a-mole. Instead of toy moles, scare-mongers are the ones popping up to create mayhem, using hyperbole and half-truths in an effort to sow doubts about the reform legislation currently under consideration in Albany.

The most dangerous piece of misinformation is the claim that the bill now pending in the state Senate – which would help to end the failed test-and-punish era – would lead to more student testing, even possibly doubling the number of tests that students are subjected to.

That’s nonsense. Returning the teacher evaluation system to local control means school districts and teachers, through collective bargaining, would have to formally agree to increase student testing.

I have spent my entire professional life as an educator. As a local union leader, the last thing I or any of my teaching colleagues would negotiate for – or even accept – is additional testing.

What this legislation would do is decouple state standardized tests from teacher evaluations, removing the state’s one-size-fits-all approach and allowing districts and teachers to design performance review systems that meet the unique needs of their own students and educators. The bill would also prohibit the use of state growth scores, killing off the mysterious algorithm that the state Education Department has been using to rank and sort teachers. The so-called value-added measurements, which purport to measure an individual teacher's effectiveness with students, have been discredited as unreliable, unstable and inaccurate and even tossed out by a state Supreme Court justice.

These changes will reduce the emphasis on standardized testing, allowing teachers to drastically reduce test prep and get back to the teaching and learning that matters most to students and parents.

In the place of state standardized tests, most school districts would probably expand the use of “group measures,” which rely on district-wide scores instead of individual student test scores, as part of their new evaluation systems – some form of which are already in use in some 600 school districts around the state. These districts have taken advantage of the four-year moratorium on the use of standardized tests in evaluations to put in place these alternative systems. School districts and local unions will likely embrace the additional flexibility provided by this reform legislation to further curtail testing.

Finally, the legislation would permanently prohibit these flawed standardized test scores, tied to the controversial Common Core standards, from becoming part of students’ official records. This further reducing of the state’s emphasis on standardized testing will help win back the trust and confidence of parents, who have been opting their children out of state tests in eye-popping numbers.

For years, teachers – as part of a strong union – have been raising their collective voices to oppose the over-reliance on standardized testing while demanding a better, fairer evaluation system.

Elected officials are finally getting the message. In May, the Assembly passed this reform bill on a 131-1 vote. Fifty-five of the 63 members of the state Senate – including all Democrats and nearly all Republicans – are now co-sponsoring the upper chamber’s companion bill.

Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan has a choice: Lift the dark cloud that has shrouded New York’s public education system, or continue the test-and-punish era and the ranking and sorting of students and teachers based on unreliable “growth scores.” Sen. Flanagan should end the tyranny of state testing by bringing the bill to the floor for a vote.