NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Friday, March 14th, 2014

Washington legislators reject Arne Duncan’s demand, refuse to force schools to teach to the test

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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One Comment

  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?

    # by Kyle Miller :: March 15th, 2014 at 4:37 PM

One Ping

  1. […] — When the Wash­ing­ton State Leg­is­la­ture adjourned with­out get­ting much done, at least it didn’t get the bad stuff done. […]

    Ping from HorsesAss.Org » Open Thread 3/17 (CE) :: March 17th, 2014 at 8:01 AM