Appreciate teachers, not high-stakes tests


Leave it to state Education Commissioner Michael Williams to “celebrate” Teacher Appreciation Week by giving teachers the back of his hand. Admittedly, that may sound a bit hyperbolic, but my characterization will be mild compared to what some parents may start saying once they realize the commissioner has fed a testing frenzy in their school districts.

Williams this week released a new, pilot teacher evaluation system that will be partly based on student test scores. The emphasis on test scores was not unexpected because that was a requirement from the federal government for granting Texas a waiver from some provisions of the No Child Left Behind (NCLB) Act. But the testing emphasis, nevertheless, flies in the face of increasing parental outrage over the standardized testing culture for which NCLB and its champion, former President George W. Bush, are largely responsible.

Now, the Obama administration has misguidedly taken up the testing banner, and Texas officials who go out of their way to disagree with President Obama on just about everything else are all too eager to heap more high-stakes tests on students and teachers. A couple of weeks ago, you may recall, Attorney General Greg Abbott proposed giving teachers – in lieu of a pay raise — a bounty for students who pass Advanced Placement tests.

Beginning with the next school year, the new evaluation system will be introduced in as many as 72 school districts and charter schools, Williams announced. Unless the Legislature steps in and says otherwise, the commissioner plans to expand the system – or a version of it – to all districts during the 2015-16 school year.

Teachers also will be evaluated on other factors, such as self-assessments, classroom observations and professional feedback. But 20 percent of an evaluation will be based on test scores for those teachers who administer standardized tests.

Thanks to pushback from parents, most legislators have started to realize that high-stakes testing and the teaching-to-the-test syndrome that it encourages are interfering with the real learning process. That is why they took a first step toward testing sanity last year by reducing the number of end-of-course exams that high school students have to pass to graduate. Now, tying a teacher’s evaluation and, potentially, pay level to test scores will encourage more teaching to the test.

Some people just don’t get it. You can count Commissioner Williams, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and President Obama among them.




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