Teachers make a huge difference in the learning of students. We know this intuitively as well as empirically. For most of us today, it’s obvious that the job of educators is to promote learning among the students they serve — that they’re responsible for it. But that wasn’t always the prevailing attitude.
Before the education reform bill that was passed in 2012, educators were not held directly responsible for student learning. Teachers were, of course, expected to deliver good lessons to students, but the impact of those lessons on student learning was not a major consideration. Instead, student learning was considered the responsibility of students and parents.
The change happened in 2012, when the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) came up with an evaluation model that assigned weights to multiple metrics — all of which would, together, inform a teacher’s overall performance review and consider the multi-faceted nature of the teaching profession.
Less than half of an evaluation would be based on observations of teachers by their supervisors; also included were stakeholder feedback (surveys) and whole-school learning (collaboration). The remaining 45 percent of an evaluation was based on indicators of student learning, of which 22.5 percent would be based on an objective measure such as the results on the state mastery test.
With the adoption of this holistic model, Connecticut recognized that because teachers were responsible for learning, an objective measure in academic skill was precisely the type of information that should have bearing on a teacher’s evaluation. We were adjusting our expectations about teaching and learning. We were acknowledging that they were linked.
Sadly, we’ve back-peddled ever since. Critics launched a campaign of catchy one-liners, which were effective precisely because of their over-simplification of the issues.
(“Children are more than a test score!” Well, nobody is trying to sum a child up as a test score. What we’re trying to do is establish an unbiased, accurate measure of whether each child is learning, as compared to his/her peers. That’s like saying that a doctor shouldn’t weigh your child because (s)he is more than a number on a scale. “You’re taking the joy out of teaching.” Look, nobody wants a teacher’s job to be joyless. But does that mean teachers shouldn’t be evaluated at all on whether they are good at their job?)
This campaign of misinformation inaccurately painted accountability efforts — which sought to ensure that each student’s needs were being personally met — as doing the opposite, as treating kids like widgets.
In reaction, before ever even implementing the model statewide, the State Board accepted the recommendation to briefly “de-couple” state tests from evaluations. Year after year, they found one reason or another to de-couple again. But the State Board has repeatedly assured us that the de-coupling was only temporary. In fact, last year, the State Board approved yet another de-coupling with the express caveat that “the Board fully supports and expects the implementation of the use of state test data in the 2017-18 school year, with a further report to the Board by November 2016, and informs PEAC that the State Board of Education will not grant any additional extensions.”
That’s why it’s so disappointing that the State Board voted earlier this month to permanently prohibit using the state test when evaluating the performance of teachers. Beyond flouting its own promises, beyond damaging the balance within the never-implemented evaluation model, the State Board challenged the expectations we have slowly been building about whether our education system has a duty to our kids.
This is a serious setback. But we can still implement meaningful evaluations. They can still positively impact teacher practice and bolster accountability. We just need our State Board to protect the remaining objective metrics in the model, and preserve the link between teaching and learning.
The State Board has sent the wrong message. But I know that excellent teachers work tirelessly to ensure their students learn. When we build an evaluation model that shares that goal, everything else will fall into place.
Jeffrey Villar is the Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform (CCER), a nonprofit organization that seeks to narrow Connecticut’s widest-in-the-nation achievement gap. To learn more about CCER, visit ctedreform.org.