Yes­ter­day the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture adjourned with­out tak­ing action on two bills that would have tight­ly linked teacher eval­u­a­tions to stu­dent test scores, despite plen­ty of evi­dence doing so is a bad idea. Leg­is­la­tors faced an enor­mous amount of pres­sure to pass these bills from U.S. Edu­ca­tion Sec­re­tary Arne Dun­can, who threat­ened to revoke the state’s waiv­er from the No Child Left Behind law, as well as from edu­ca­tion reform groups and news­pa­per edi­to­r­i­al boards like that of the Seat­tle Times. Yet leg­is­la­tors refused to give in and instead chose to stand up for our chil­dren, their teach­ers, and for great schools.

By refus­ing to demand schools teach to the test, Wash­ing­ton State has added inspir­ing new momen­tum to the rapid­ly grow­ing nation­al move­ment of bipar­ti­san resis­tance against overtest­ing of our chil­dren. After a par­ent revolt in New York State, leg­is­la­tors were forced to revis­it stan­dard­ized test­ing poli­cies. Par­ents and teach­ers in Chica­go have begun a boy­cott of a stan­dard­ized test. Ida­ho vot­ers reject­ed state laws in 2012 that would have tied teacher eval­u­a­tions to test scores, and Mary­land recent­ly vot­ed to delay such a link. Lead­ing edu­ca­tion experts from around the nation have called for Con­gres­sion­al hear­ings on the way stan­dard­ized tests are being used and abused across the country.

This resis­tance is grow­ing as par­ents and teach­ers see the dam­ag­ing effects that link­ing teacher eval­u­a­tions to test scores has on our class­rooms. Such require­ments ignore spe­cif­ic needs or issues stu­dents may have that are out­side teacher con­trol. There are reports that these rules dis­ad­van­tage low-income and minor­i­ty stu­dents.

In states that have pressed ahead with these poli­cies, one of the results is a teach­ing pro­fes­sion that feels demor­al­ized as their cur­ricu­lum is nar­rowed to focus sole­ly on test scores. Stud­ies have shown stu­dents are learn­ing few­er sub­jects, with less instruc­tion­al time in sub­jects like art, music, his­to­ry, and sci­ence so that teach­ers can keep their jobs by focus­ing only on what will be on the test.

In Jan­u­ary I wrote an op-ed pub­lished in the Seat­tle Times call­ing on leg­is­la­tors to reject the fed­er­al demand. In Feb­ru­ary the State Sen­ate reject­ed an ear­li­er ver­sion of a bill that would have linked teacher eval­u­a­tions to test scores.

News­pa­per edi­to­r­i­al pages demand­ed the leg­is­la­ture give into fed­er­al demands and link teacher eval­u­a­tions to test scores. They argued that the state would be wrong to risk los­ing the NCLB waiv­er and lose flex­i­bil­i­ty in how to spend over $30 mil­lion in fed­er­al grants.

But they nev­er made the case for stan­dard­ized test­ing itself. These edi­to­ri­als nev­er explained why it was good for teach­ers to feel their jobs would be in jeop­ardy unless stu­dents were doing well on nar­row, lim­it­ed, flawed tests. They nev­er addressed wide­spread objec­tions from par­ents, teach­ers, and school admin­is­tra­tors to the prac­tice. They nev­er acknowl­edged the grow­ing nation­al move­ment to resist these tests.

These edi­to­r­i­al writ­ers hoped that threats and fears would be suf­fi­cient to scare leg­is­la­tors into approv­ing this rad­i­cal change. Instead, leg­is­la­tors chose to lis­ten to their con­stituents and stick with the fair com­pro­mise they craft­ed sev­er­al years ago on the issue.

As a par­ent, I am very glad they did so. I want my child to get a well round­ed edu­ca­tion when he goes to school. The last thing I want is for him to sim­ply be study­ing for and tak­ing a bunch of bub­ble tests. So thank you to every­one else in the Leg­is­la­ture who did what was right — espe­cial­ly when it was­n’t easy.

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2 replies on “Washington legislators reject Arne Duncan’s demand, refuse to force schools to teach to the test”

  1. I’m con­fused. I thought the change to teacher eval­u­a­tions had to do with using local tests ver­sus state tests. How does not chang­ing the teacher eval­u­a­tions reduce testing?

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