Politics & Government

Teachers line up to oppose use of statewide tests in evaluations

Hundreds of teachers flooded the state Capitol on Monday to oppose a measure that would require statewide standardized tests to be factored into teacher and principal evaluations.

Supporters of Senate Bill 5748 say the proposed changes would let Washington regain its waiver from onerous requirements of the federal No Child Left Behind education law. The U.S. Department of Education revoked Washington’s exempt status last year after state lawmakers failed to pass similar legislation.

But several teachers who testified against the proposal Monday said it would be unfair to judge educators based on students’ performance on statewide assessments and that there isn’t evidence that doing so would improve the education system.

Teachers who came to Olympia to oppose the bill packed a House committee room and filled several overflow rooms, wearing stickers that read, “It’s time to teach more, test less.”

Under current state law, districts in Washington must consider student progress in evaluating the performance of teachers and principals, but the districts can draw their data from local or district-based tests. The U.S. Department of Education says districts must use statewide standardized testing data when it is available.

Senate Bill 5748 would mandate the use of statewide tests in evaluations, but let local school districts and their teacher unions negotiate how the scores are used and how much weight they would be given.

Marcia Fromhold, lobbyist for the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, said Senate Bill 5748 “does not substantively change the evaluation process that is currently in place.”

Yet some teachers who spoke out Monday said tying teacher evaluations to state standardized test scores could create classrooms that are focused more on exam preparation than on quality learning.

“When teachers’ evaluations are based on test scores, teachers will focus on the content that is tied to those tests,” said Sara Sunshine Campbell, a faculty member at The Evergreen State College who teaches education courses.

Others said lawmakers should focus on improving overall funding for public education, as they have been ordered to do by the state Supreme Court. In the education-funding lawsuit known as McCleary, the court ruled in 2012 that the state was failing to meet its constitutional obligation to fully fund public schools and must do so by 2018.

“This is bad policy,” said Angel Morton, president of the Tacoma Education Association. “This bill does not help children, it doesn’t help teachers, and it is a huge distraction from what is supposed to be happening right now: the work to fully fund K-12 public education.”

Last year, Washington became the first state in the nation to lose its waiver from the No Child Left Behind law. Without it, school districts in 2014-15 had to redirect about $40 million toward after-school tutoring, which is largely being carried out by private companies. Some money was also earmarked for busing students from failing schools to nonfailing ones.

Additionally, losing the waiver meant that most districts had to send letters home to parents telling them their schools failed to meet federal standards. No Child Left Behind states that 100 percent of students should be passing state math and reading tests by 2014, a standard that 88 percent of schools in Washington failed to achieve last year.

The state Senate approved the teacher-evaluation measure on a 26-23 vote earlier this month. But on Monday, the bill’s prospects for advancement in the House appeared dim. The Education Committee had yet to schedule it for a vote, and the committee didn’t plan to meet before Wednesday’s key deadline for bills to advance out of policy committees.

Rep. Chris Reykdal, D-Tumwater and the vice chairman of the Education Committee, said he and some other committee members have concerns about the bill.

Yet the ranking Republican on the House Education Committee, Chad Magendanz, said he still thinks there may be enough support in the House to bring the legislation directly to the floor for a vote later in the session.

“The policy at this point has been so watered down,” said Magendanz, R-Issaquah. “Really, we’re just closing a small loophole.”