The New York State Legislature has passed a bill that would effectively eliminate a requirement that student testing be used as a part of teacher evaluations, leaving decisions of how teachers should be evaluated up to local school district and teacher unions with limited oversight by the state’s education department, The New York Times reports.
The move, which follows a push by Gov. Andrew Cuomo four years ago to require half of teacher ratings to be based on student test scores, is seen by many as a victory for teacher unions, which have pushed back against the requirement since the beginning, now that Democrats control both houses in the state legislature. The Times reports that other states where Democrats and teacher unions are more influential are also pulling back from using test scores as a significant metric in teacher evals.
The retreat also represents a change in the position held a few years ago when President Barack Obama pushed for the practice as part of a rigorous teacher evaluation process, though some educators and observers wonder if a compromise on the practice can be found.
While the decision to eliminate the required use of student test scores to evaluate teachers seems to be gaining traction in some states, test scores are still used in most states as a measure of teacher quality. While the National Council on Teacher Quality, for example, stresses the importance of teacher evaluations in improving teacher quality, there has been significant debate on the role student test scores should play.
Critics of such high-stakes metrics argue that the approach encourages teachers to “teach to the test,” thus interfering with a more well-rounded approach to education. Some also argue that standardized exam scores have a weak predictive value when it comes to later student outcomes. Others worry the primary focus on math and reading scores crowds out the importance of other subjects and creative efforts.
Teacher unions have a had a great impact on this debate and have generally opposed using student test data to judge teacher quality. Even the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation's abandoned efforts in this arena were somewhat influenced by pressure from teacher unions, Brian Stecher, a RAND researcher, noted.
“When the results started being used to give cash rewards or to identify teachers for required planning and ultimately, perhaps, termination, the teacher organizations reacted defensively,” Stecher said, as reported by Education Week. “[Districts] had to suffer through a lot of pushback and disharmony.”
The article also notes that that that “ill will” may have influenced evaluation scores and encouraged school and district leaders to give increasingly generous ratings on subjective areas of evaluation such as classroom observation. Finding ways to balance these subjective measures against hard data without putting too much pressure on teachers to “teach to the test” remains a problem that state legislatures must solve.