Rethinking Student State Assessments as Measures of Teacher/Principal Effectiveness

I don’t think you’ll find many opposing high accountability for teachers and principals. Public school education is just too important for our nation’s future to do otherwise. However, the devil is in the details. How does one go about finding valid and reliable measures that are fool-proof? Evidence based observations of teachers and principals by calibrated evaluators are important components to a robust Annual Professional Performance Review process, but can we say the same about student achievement on state measures? Depends on who you speak with, but for a small but growing group of parents, the answer may be a resounding “No.”

The notion of parents choosing to opt out of state tests hit the press in our region of New York recently, and regardless of the legality of such actions, the movement has raised some interesting points. Some parents complain their children are stressed out by tests used to rate teachers as highly effective, effective, developing and ineffective, and a few are threatening to move their children to private schools. Others cite the lost instructional time and resources to prepare, conduct, and grade the assessments, and would rather have their children learning during those days. It’s all so very complicated and makes one wonder if there exists a better way to keep standards high for our educators and administrators while maximizing the quality of instruction and programs for students.

Here’s a thought. What if instead of using student test scores to evaluate teacher and principal effectiveness, we were to use teacher and principal test scores and evidence binders? In so doing, we’d relieve the at times intense focus and pressure on students for success on state assessments. Think of the savings in time and resources. There would be more time for quality instruction, and more monies for student intervention programs, professional development, curriculum work, data-driven instruction systems, and the necessary staff to support such efforts. Rather than test students, we’d ask teachers and principals every five years to take a rigorous test and submit evidence that they remain effective and viable in the classroom or building they work in. No more isolated cheating scandals. No more confounding elements of behavioral responses to Value-Added high stakes testing (See footnote 1).  We’d still keep evidence-based observation systems going in our schools because we know they work, but we’d take out the pressure laden focus on student achievement tied to the Annual Professional Performance Review. There still would be a need for rigorous common-core aligned summative assessments, but with a much different focus (The old model tied student achievement to school success).

Basically, what we’re talking about is renewable tenure. Tenure is a time-honored recognition by school boards of teacher and principal competency and professionalism, and is earned through hard work, perseverance, and demonstration of knowledge and skills. It is essentially a life-time contract between institution and individual. Having a system that honors tenure while ensuring every professional maintains their knowledge and skills over time through rigorous assessments would do much for the profession. Perhaps more so than tying professional performance to student tests. By asking educators and principals to maintain their tenure through five-year testing and evidence-based artifacts, we take the burden of proof off students and place it on the backs of our adult professionals. If a teacher has demonstrated strong content knowledge, literacy skills, and awareness of student development and various learning needs, and if that teacher has been consistently deemed effective in the classroom by a calibrated evaluator, than what more evidence is necessary to assure everyone that the teacher has the skills and understandings to teach? The same rules and logic would apply to principals. Who knows? It just might work. At the very least, it takes the pressure off students.

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