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Felipe Fuentes, author of California’s new teacher evaluation bill, AB 5, has added more anti-teacher revisions to the legislation in an attempt to placate conservatives and win a waiver to the federal No Child Left Behind law. The problem is that conservatives will never accept AB 5, no matter what compromises are made, as long as AB 5 continues to allow teachers to collectively bargain any changes to their districts’ evaluation systems.
The changes might make California eligible for a NCLB waiver. According to John Fensterwald, of Ed Source, this would halt penalties for low performing schools and districts and make it easier for the state to access $350 million in Title I revenues for low performing districts. One of these changes is particularly onerous for teachers and could be devastating for schools and students: the mandatory use of student standardized test scores as a measure of student growth which would be part of teacher evaluations.
In order to get a waiver, the feds want these scores to be a “significant” part of how student growth is measured. The revised version of AB 5 does not use the word “significant.” Each school district will be allowed to determine what portion of student growth will be measured by the state tests, and how much will be measured by other factors, such as student portfolios or internal assessments.
CTA Sellout or Victory?
The new requirement that student test scores be used to evaluate teachers is a direct challenge to the CTA. The union’s support for AB 5 was due in large part to the requirement that changes to evaluations be collectively bargained at the district level. The new student test data mandate undermines this. Unions would have no say in whether or not the tests could be used to assess teachers, though they could collectively bargain how much the tests count toward teachers’ evaluations. Furthermore, while the CTA has expressed a willingness to accept the use of student test data, they have argued that the forthcoming Common Core assessment would have to be studied first to see if it was appropriate for this use. The legislature, on the other hand, is imposing the use of such data first, with the assumption that “any assessments developed by a national consortium and adopted by the State Board and used for the purposes of this section meet statistical and psychometric standards appropriate for this use.” In other words, the tests can and will be used to assess teachers and the CTA will have to trust that the consortium will make the tests statistically and psychometrically valid for this purpose.
It is unclear how the California Teachers Association (CTA), which had come out strongly in support of AB 5, will respond to the revisions, (though unofficially I have heard they are supporting them). Their continued support would not be a surprise. While the CTA has opposed using the existing STAR exam to assess teachers because it was not designed for this purpose, they were strong backers of the shift to Common Core Standards (CCS) and the continuation of the use of high stakes standardized tests for their students. Furthermore, they have already accepted other forms of student assessments to measure teacher competency. Thus, they are not necessarily opposed to standardized test scores for this purpose.
A fundamental problem is that all student tests measure student ability, not teacher ability. At best they might serve as a proxy for part of a teacher’s skill in the classroom. They cannot come close to assessing the bulk of what teachers do and in practice they are a terrible proxy for any aspect of teacher skill. Student success and growth on standardized tests (and most other assessments) are influenced by many factors, especially their socioeconomic backgrounds. They are also influenced by previous teachers, familial support, English language proficiency, special education status and disabilities. Furthermore, Value Added scores for teachers are inconsistent for all but those at the very extremes. Even for those at the extremes the scores are inconsistent if they aren’t averaged over three years.
For these reasons, the use of student test scores should not be used to assess teachers at all. If they are used, many good teachers will receive bad evaluations and potentially be denied tenure and promotions or even get fired as a result. This is not only unfair to the teachers, but also a disservice to students, who may lose good quality and beloved teachers simply because they are poor or have a learning disability. It will also encourage even more teaching to the test than already occurs, as teachers focus more on saving their jobs through test preparation than on good teaching. And it will encourage veteran teachers at low income schools to jump ship and head for safer shores in affluent neighborhoods, where their students are less likely to have a negative impact on their evaluations and job security.
Insatiable Ed Deformers
Even with the revisions, there is continued opposition to the bill and not just from right wing pundits. The Association of California School Administrators and the California School Boards Association are expected to continue their opposition to the bill, according to Fensterwald, because of the high cost ($18 million per year to cover costs like principal training and the expense of increased teacher observations) and the fact that “all” aspects of evaluations will still be subject to collective bargaining.
Many school boards and district administrators believe they have the right to determine all factors in an evaluation. This has not yet been tested in court, though an attorney for LAUSD has written a brief outlining the district’s authority. If AB 5 passes, lawsuits would be likely, particularly by LAUSD, which has invested considerable resources into its new VAM evaluation system.
Regardless, it sounds like the use of student test data will be a mandate under the law: all teachers will be subjected to it. California would not be in the vanguard—there are already 21 other states that require the use of student test data to evaluate teachers. It would be one more reason not to go into teaching or to look for other work (if there were any other jobs out there).
The CTA could try to spin it as a victory by claiming they preserved collective bargaining. This would be inaccurate. In order to save collective bargaining for some aspects of teacher evaluations they will have given up that right for one of the most important aspects: whether or not to allow student test data at all. By supporting the use of student growth data they hope to show the public and their opponents that they are reasonable, professional and truly care about improving the quality of teaching in California. In reality, this position bolsters the straw man argument that teachers are to blame for low student achievement and helps perpetuate the delusion that good teaching can overcome poverty.