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.