These are the three bills that I am referring to as described by WSSDA:

  • HB 2427/SB 6203 would make student growth data a significant factor in the evaluation process and would allow for student input (for teachers) or building input (for principals) to be included. OSPI would be required to establish common components of the teacher evaluation systems for school districts to use in the 2013-14 school year. Beginning September 1, 2014, any employee who received an unsatisfactory under the old system or the lowest rating under the new system in two consecutive years would revert to provisional status. By this date, districts would be required to update policies and collective bargaining agreements to consider performance evaluations before other factors, such as seniority, when making reductions in force decisions due to enrollment decline or loss of revenue, or for recall decisions.
  • HB 2451 does not address the entire evaluation process, but would change only school district policies and collective bargaining agreements to provide that contracts of classroom teachers who received comparatively lower evaluation ratings would be nonrenewed before contracts of classroom teachers who received comparatively higher evaluation ratings. The bill would apply to new contracts after the effective date of the bill and on collective bargaining agreements renewed or extended after the effective date.

The Washington State Senate had hearings on the Senate bill yesterday and it will be heard in the House today at 6:00 PM.

There are many issues with these bills. This is referred to as high stakes testing, when a significant factor of the evaluation of a teacher is based on student test scores and it creates many unfortunate situations that do not lead to a better education for children.

I have asked parents around the country through the Parents Across America network who have had experiences with this type of evaluation system to share their thoughts and opinions on what this bill proposes. This is a long post because these parents had much to share but bear with me. It’s worth reading all of the responses. This is what they had to say.

From a parent in New York:

The New York Principal APPR Paper has resources on linking teacher evaluations to standardized test scores. It is the background information on the New York  principals opposition to the new teacher evaluation system.

Here is the introduction:

In May 2010, the New York State Legislature—in an effort to secure federal Race to the Top funds—approved an amendment to Educational Law 3012-c regarding the Annual Professional Performance Review (APPR) of teachers and principals. The new law states that beginning September 2011, all teachers and principals will receive a number from 0-100 to rate their performance. Part of that number (ranging from 20% to 40%) will be derived from how well students perform on standardized tests. At first glance, using test scores might seem like a reasonable approach to accountability. As designed, however, these regulations carry unintended negative consequences for our schools and students that simply cannot be ignored.

Our paper describes in clear detail why everyone should be concerned about these changes, and we provide recommendations for moving forward in a manner that is best for our students and schools.

Beyond demanding standardized tests in every subject, there is a great deal of error built into using tests to evaluate teachers. Jesse Rothstein found that, I believe, a 40-50% error rate. See: Review of Learning About Teaching by the National Education Policy Center. This website also has Briggs and Domingue’s report finding similar errors. Sean Corcoran at New York University has also found that using standardized test scores is about as reliable as a coin toss.

And, although these plans claim that they will not only use test scores, it is the test scores, the rigid number, that will end up being the only factor considered. As Bruce Baker, an ed professor at Rutgers said, “it may be 50% of the protocol, but it will drive 100% of the decision.” See Follow-up on Fire First, Ask Questions Later. Baker has very thoughtful comments on the newest Harvard study that got so much press and why that study cannot be translated into personnel policies for teachers.

From a parent in North Carolina:

There are lots of reasons, but I’ll focus on one: testing madness. If the evaluation requires that every teacher have “student growth data,” and that data will impact conditions of employment, then districts will have to institute a standardized test for every child in every subject in every grade (including kindergarten and first grade) in order to obtain that data. Our fearless leaders tried that in Charlotte and it was a disaster both politically and educationally.

From a parent in Florida:

First, Florida’s law is much stricter. Effective last July every new Florida teacher is placed on a ONE YEAR contract which must be renewed each year based upon their evaluation ‘scores’ which comprise their student’s standardized test score (50% of the evaluation) and principal evaluation.

Effective 2014, every teacher in Florida must either convert to the one year contract method or accept the fact that they will never get another raise again. (Note: The Florida Teacher’s Union is in court over this right now.) Also effective last year, no teacher is paid more for a Master’s Degree! (I kid you not!)

Here are some bullet points as to why WA shouldn’t evaluate teacher by test scores.

1) Expense, expense, expense.

It is fiscally irresponsible. Millions of dollars will be wasted on “standardized test” creation, on test grading, on teacher training, on new hardware, new servers, new software, AND on inevitable lawsuits over this DATA that was collected. Lawsuits from all sides involved– from teacher’s unions, from teachers AND from parents. That’s happening already in states that are amassing this data and allowing access to it either online or in newspapers.

All of this siphons our much-needed tax dollars from the Arts, from Music programs, from precious public school programs like Pre-K learning, after school activities and programs, etc. As in the case of Florida, these mandates are quite literally bankrupting the school districts. They need to see what they are enacting and the impact it will have on local dollars. It also begs the question why in the world is the State Legislature even crafting education policies at this level?

2) Teachers are forced to teach to the test

The very child teachers try to reach — the difficult-to-teach child, the child who struggles, the developmentally delayed child, the learning disabled child — is abandoned by implementing evaluations by student’s test scores. No one will have the time to coax potential from a shy, troubled, hungry, sick, struggling student. The impassioned teacher will vanish altogether and be replaced by data-driven, robotic teachers on a solo mission. That mission? To improve their evaluations so they can keep their jobs. I believe it does take a village to raise a child. That village dissipates with this process of evaluating teachers by student’s test scores.

(Btw, the legislature won’t care about what I’m about to write — but, we’re also creating a generation — perhaps two generations — of data driven, highly competitive, non-collegial type young people. Statistics will mean everything to this generation. )

3) Finland does not have Teacher Evaluations by Student Test Scores

Seriously– for data driven type people, they always want to know who is doing better than the US. The top performing academic nation in the world is Finland and they have NO standardized tests at all. We should model our teacher evaluation plan after theirs. Read Pasi Sahlberg’s new book Finnish Lessons.

Hold off making this decision until the WA Dept of Ed and the WA Legislative Committee over Education research what is happening in Finland.

4) Evaluating Teachers by Student Test Scores will damage student-teacher relationships

Teachers will look at students at what the students can contribute to their evaluation. If they are too high risk, the teacher won’t want that child and will take actions to get that child out of their classroom. We will abandon our most at risk children. Sad, but true. When your livelihood, your salary, your colleagues, your school depend upon your evaluation and the test scores for that one test, that one day, you will do what it takes to get the score you need to survive.

5) Tell WA Legislature to focus on ALL the cheating scandals around the nation.

Survival of the Fittest. Does the State of Washington want this embarrassment too. Look what it does to the children. — Our teachers, our school, our principal, our superintendent cheated. That is something that will stay with these children forever.

On Teaching to the Test

A side note, I visited Florida Elementary Schools last week and spoke to over 80 teachers in total, observed over 30 classrooms, spoke with Principals, Assistant Principals, “Teacher of the Year,” and even little cherubs.

There wasn’t one classroom I entered that a 4, 5, 6, 7 year-old wasn’t banished to the computer to improve their “Scores.” (yes, 4 yr olds too). Teachers who formerly worked as a “village” told me they need to improve their student’s scores. All of the focus is on the brave 3rd grade teachers. Their students’ performances on the dreaded FCAT (standardized test) fell on their shoulders. I was told being a 3rd grade teacher was a revolving door. If their “performance” wasn’t good one year, they were gone the next. In Florida, if a 3rd grade student does not do well on FCAT they are held back BY LAW. Of course, the school’s ability to keep above the “Intervene” or “Low Performing School” status depends heavily on that 3rd grade FCAT and that 3rd grade teacher. Needless to say, who the heck wants to be a 3rd grade teacher anywhere in Florida these days? You have to be a masochist or a daredevil to agree to take that job.

I asked four teachers on their 15 min lunch break: “How much time will you spend studying for FCAT now?” They said in near unison, “100% of our time between now and the time of the test.” When’s the test? APRIL. 100% of the time will be spent teaching to the test.

From a parent in Colorado:

In Colorado, it would be a different story if one of the measures were the English proficiency exam, substituted for the reading/writing portions of our CSAP. As it is, these high-stakes decisions are being made with skewed data that does not include how rapidly and how well our ELL’s get to proficiency.

From a parent in Seattle:

Here is what I have learned recently about alignment of Writer’s Workshop and State of Washington’s standardized writing assessment.

The state has a writing assessment in 4th grade and 7th grade. Both assessments evaluate the student’s ability to construct, on demand, a five-paragraph essay having the following structure: Paragraph 1 is a statement of a theme, thesis, or “big idea” (to use WW jargon). Paragraph 5 is the concluding, wrap-up paragraph. Paragraphs 2, 3, and 4, each provide support. Each of these paragraphs 2-4 have a different emphasis.

Student’s are given a single topic on the state test, examples can be found on the OSPI website, and in 3rd grade might be, e.g., “Describe your school playground, and what you like and dislike about it.” and must produce a 5-paragraph essay on this topic. The test is graded subjectively. The student can get a maximum of 6 points: Four points can be earned for style and structure; up to two points can be earned for conventions. The writing test does not require that students demonstrate proficiency in any particular convention, or any specific knowledge in the areas of conventions, spelling, vocabulary. The scoring system indicates that ability to structure a 5-paragraph essay on demand is given more importance than having an essay free of errors related to conventions.

The Writer’s Workshop curriculum has a 200 page manual that teaches the five-paragraph essay. This is the manual on the “personal essay.” The manual, authored by Lucy Caulkins, is marked for grades 3 through five. The curriculum calls for the teacher to teach the “personal narrative” unit prior to teaching the “personal essays” unit. The two units take much of the school year to cover. What is happening in Seattle Public Schools is that students are getting the exact same curriculum from grades 3 through 7. The same teaching manual (i.e., the “Grades 3-5” manuals for the personal essay and the personal narrative) is being used for FIVE SUCCESSIVE YEARS. Our kids are having to repeat a curriculum FIVE YEARS IN A ROW. This curriculum gives almost no attention to conventions. The Grades 3-5 personal essay manual has only one mention of grammar in the first 50 pages of the book. The manual has many examples of student work; very few are free of severe conventional errors (most contain sentence fragments, for example). The author never comments on these errors, and never directs the teacher to address these errors. The focus of the book is on the structure of the essay, and enriching the writing. According to this book, no topic is too trivial to become a theme: Lucy Caulkins states that even “the skin on the inside of the elbow” is worthy as a topic of a themed 5-paragraph essay.

Why is Seattle Public Schools subjecting its students to five years of repetition of this impoverished curriculum? Because the state tests students on the 5-paragraph essay in grades 4 and 7. The teaching of the 5 paragraph essay starts in grade 3, so by the time of the grade 4 assessment, students have had the curriculum twice. By the taking of the 7th grade assessment, students will have had five repetitions of a curriculum that is designed to prepare them to do be able write a 5-paragraph personal-opinion essays on very mundane topics.

There are other serious problems with WW, but this provides a clear example from Seattle Public Schools of what can happen when curriculum becomes narrowed to what is assessed on a particular test.

From a parent in California:

The real reason why the tests should be opposed is that they do not allow for “academic growth” no matter what the teacher does since they’re designed to fit all responses under the “Bell Curve”.

And from this parent in Seattle, me:

The reasons that I am opposed to what I term the high stakes testing of our students include:

  • The amount of additional stress and pressure that is placed on students when they understand what is at stake might include the firing of a well-loved teacher;
  • The additional time that teachers would feel they need to spend teaching to the test;
  • The test preparation would take over with an emphasis on memorization rather than creative, critical and analytical thinking;
  • The way that it would “reign in” teachers from exploring different options and methods of teaching that would not fit within a time-table based on testing schedules.

I would recommend listening to Audit Culture, Teacher Evaluation and the Pillaging of Public Education on Education Radio. Of the people interviewed, one is a principal who was one of the authors of the New York Principal APPR Paper that was mentioned earlier in this post. There is, by the way, a reference to one of our founding members in New York, Leonie Haimson, and her blog NYC Public School Parents during this conversation.

Please contact our state representatives and let them know that this is not what we want for our children and their schools.

The Washington State Senate Committee on Early Learning and K-12 Education:


Vice Chair

Committee Members

On the house side, the Committee on Education contact information is:

And for the Republican representatives, you can call Julia Kwon and leave a message, 360.786.7292.


Part 2 in this series can be found at Part 2: Washington State Bill Proposals HB 2427/SB 6203 and HB 2451: Teacher evaluations based on test scores: The studies.