State test scores must be used in teacher evaluations, or all schools could "fail"

by: Natasha Chen Updated:

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BOTHELL, Wash. - The U.S. Department of Education requires Washington to include state test scores as a mandatory part of evaluating teachers by the next school year, or risk losing its waiver under No Child Left Behind.

Losing the waiver would mean the state must go back to following all No Child Left Behind mandates, including bringing 100 percent of students to proficiency in reading and math by 2014.

Since almost no school in Washington can meet that benchmark, parents would receive letters home, informing them that their school is failing. According to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, more than 99 percent of schools in Washington would fall in this category.

"We know our schools are not failing. So it was important to change the language," said Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe (D-Bothell).

McAuliffe introduced Senate Bill 5960 on Wednesday, which makes state standardized test scores a mandatory part of teacher evaluations.

The students' growth would be measured by assessments at two different points in time, to see how the teacher has helped them improve.

Besides labeling schools as failures, a second consequence of not making such a change would be the loss of flexibility in a district's use of Title I funds, intended for poor students.

Without a waiver, districts must set aside 20 percent of Title I funds, to pay for third-party service providers to tutor the children, and to transport any student whose parent would like to move their children away from a failing school.

Currently with a waiver, districts tend to put that money directly into the Title I school.

Across the state, this could affect the use of at least $38 million.

Teachers, however, oppose the mandatory inclusion of state test scores because they have only recently been introduced to a new evaluation system.

"Any change to it would just derail it, would just wreck it. We're just getting used to the current system now," said Jared Kink, president of the Everett Education Association.

Kink said that the Everett schools currently evaluate teachers by including scores, but only those of tests established by the teachers or the districts themselves. Using state standardized tests is a different matter.

"Those state assessments aren't as good as the ones that teachers develop on their own, or districts develop. Currently there are too many problems with the state test to use properly in an evaluation," Kink said.

Yet Dave Powell, the executive director of Stand for Children, said, "Research says it's the most valuable and reliable way to measure how much a student is learning each year."

Powell also emphasized that this method does not require any additional testing.

Teachers also oppose the idea of only some teachers being held accountable by these standards, and not others.

Only standardized tests in math, reading and language arts, in grades 3 to 8, and some math tests in grade 9, would be included. That affects 25-35 percent of teachers in the state, according to the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

Those teaching other subjects would not be evaluated with any state test scores.

Parents like Melissa Cornwell are concerned.

"I would want to know [the scores], but I wouldn't say that I would hold [teachers] completely accountable for test scores," Cornwell said.

She said that many students don't test well, or have challenging environments at home that are out of the teacher's control.

Still, the thought of getting a letter that her daughter's school is failing is troubling, even though she knows her school is performing well.

"I'd be pretty scared. My child's education is a huge priority in my life," she said.

Kink said that letter informing parents of failing schools is indicative of how No Child Left Behind guidelines have set everyone up for failure.

When asked if No Child Left Behind is essentially holding the state hostage, McAuliffe said, "I wouldn't say 'held hostage'. I would say that the waiver granted to us by the federal department of education is very important to us."