Opponents don’t care about validity of test scores, only scapegoating teachers

How could a bill that would have improved the teacher evaluation process die in the California Legislature? Assembly Bill 5, “A Best Practices Teacher Evaluation System,” fell victim to faulty assumptions and reasoning that defies logic. And our schools are poorer for it.

When supporters of AB 5 marshaled research from a broad spectrum of organizations and individuals that challenged the accuracy and value of evaluating teachers based on test scores, AB 5 opponents shamelessly suggested that even invalid test measures should still be used.

Opponents stated in testimony to a state Senate hearing on August 29 that they were opposed to a provision that the tests used to measure academic growth be “valid and reliable” for the curriculum, the pupil being taught, and for the purpose of teacher evaluation.

Why would anyone support the use of non-valid and non-reliable test results in teacher evaluation? Because the opposition is not about ensuring quality teaching and learning; it is about destroying collective bargaining in public schools. Assembly Bill 5 died in the Legislature.

bAB 5 established a true “best practices” evaluation system, based on the rigorous California Standards for the Teaching Profession, and required school boards to hold public hearings about implementation of the new evaluation systems.

bAB 5 required the details of evaluation to be collectively bargained in recognition that one size does not fit all.

bAB 5 included language on using student test data; however, it did not mandate specific methods for using that data, or weighing the data, leaving that to local collective bargaining.

bMost importantly, AB 5 required frequent evaluations as well as extensive training for evaluators on how to conduct evaluations validly, fairly and constructively. Using “multiple measures,” the evaluations would examine real student work done over a year, rather than in one week of testing.

Who else, beside teachers, recognizes using standardized test scores in evaluations is inappropriate? Just about every expert who has examined the practice.

The most common way student test scores are used in teacher evaluations is Value-Added Measures. VAM purports to associate a given student’s academic progress over time directly to a teacher’s effectiveness by comparing the student’s test scores from year to year. Here’s what the experts say.

National Research Council of the Academy of Sciences, the highest scientific body in the nation: “Too little research has been done on these methods’ validity to base high-stakes decisions about teachers on them.”

Educational Testing Service, the state’s testing vendor: VAM cannot sort out students’ backgrounds and prior learning well enough to accurately attribute individual student learning gains to the teacher.

RAND Corporation, a nonpartisan organization: VAM and other methods of using student test data in teacher evaluations are not ready for prime time.

In short, there is no research base that indicates student test scores can be used in a fair and valid manner to evaluate teachers, or that such use would result in better teaching. Not one cutting edge education system — including those in Singapore and Finland — uses student test data in teacher evaluations.

It’s clear that the opposition is not interested in a teacher evaluation system that will improve teaching practice or improve student learning. Their stated goal is to create a system to identify “bad teachers.”

The failure of AB 5 to make it out of the California Legislature is a setback for the education community and all those who believe education reform requires a truly collaborative effort. AB 5 provided a much-needed step forward in improving the teacher evaluation process by incorporating best practices, community member engagement, and local negotiations.

Within the oppositional din could be heard the unmistakable effort to scapegoat teachers and education unions for the crisis in public education. The attack on AB 5 is part of an ongoing effort to shift discussion away from the real issue confronting public education — namely the massive underfunding of public schools.

— By Gary Ravani