Monday, January 6, 2014

Simple language change, significant consequences . . .

Once more I am drawn to a Seattle Times editorial focused on strengthening teacher evaluation by mandating the use of state test scores in  individual teacher evaluations.  It is the second of three education editorials from January 4th found here.

Lawmakers' first important task is to strengthen the state teacher and principal evaluation law, if the state wants to keep its federal waiver under the federal No Child Left Behind law. The new evaluation system, enacted in 2012, is more useful than the previous one. It includes the use of student test scores as one element out of many when rating teacher and principal performance.

Is the primary motivation to assure the state maintains the waiver I have blogged about before?   Would this change be a top priority in the upcoming legislative session if the waiver was not in jeopardy?   How does this change support what we have been told is the primary driver for the mandated evaluation changes; supporting teacher growth?

But the law's weak language — it says that statewide student test scores "can" be used, rather than "must" — resulted in battles throughout the state's 295 districts as teachers' unions and administrators faced off over whether to use state test scores.

With my limited data, I am not aware of any school system that faced a "battle" between teachers and administrators over whether to use state test scores.  That was certainly the case in our system where conversations were collaborative and decisions reached through consensus.

State test scores should be used, just as the scores from district and teacher-developed tests will be used. If Washington does not change the law to reflect this important principle, it may lose a federal waiver exempting it from mandates in the No Child Left Behind law.  The word "can" must be exchanged for "must" in the law. 

Changing the word will more than likely be done this session, but what will it accomplish?  I don't believe that it will strengthen our capacity to support teacher growth, it could in the short term have the opposite effect depending on how the scores must be used.  It will, however, position the state to maintain the waiver so lets be open about the motivation for the proposed change.  What it does to our culture and to our capacity to maintain the focus on teacher growth is the unintended consequence I would like to not face.

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