Missouri Voters Decide if Standardized Tests Will Grade Teacher Performance

Missouri Voters Decide if Standardized Tests Will Grade Teacher Performance

While education has always been a key issue for families, the emergence of the Common Core standards and discussions about how tests aligned to the standards impact students, teachers, and even elections have made education more of a hot button issue than ever before. Tuesday’s Election Day puts the issue front and center in Missouri, where voters will decide if their state Constitution will be amended to link standardized tests to teacher evaluations.

Amendment 3 is on the ballot in Missouri, and its purpose, in part, is to “require teachers to be evaluated by a standards based performance evaluation system” and “require teachers to be dismissed, retained, demoted, promoted and paid primarily using quantifiable student performance data as part of the evaluation system.”

Having taught English Language Arts in New York for over seventeen years, and having spent the last part of my teaching career under the mandates of the Common Core, I know firsthand how damaging standardized testing is–to students, as well as educators. I understand that the classroom dynamic completely changes when assessments are used to evaluate teacher performance.

Before I resigned in October of 2013 and moved to Missouri, I had heard the arguments that well-meaning–albeit misguided–non-educators make about how important it is for “those teachers to be held accountable.” Accountability is necessary; every teacher will admit that, and every good teacher even desires that. But accountability is only as good as its methods.

While many seek to dismiss teachers’ concerns about being judged by students’ standardized test scores, reality–the reality that many teachers have personally lived–provides reasons not to go down that road.

Jackson R-2 School District Board of Education member Alaina Hinze, not speaking in any official capacity for the Board, but as an individual who happens to sit on the Board, told Breitbart News that she is vehemently opposed to tying standardized tests to teacher evaluations. Other members of the Jackson Board share Hinze’s perspective. “Teachers should not have to worry about how well their students are going to perform on a standardized test, but rather how they are performing on a daily basis,” she said. “Students may show great growth in learning throughout the year, only to wake up sick on a day of standardized testing and therefore perform at a lower level,” Hinze added.

Hinze also pointed out that these tests, which are slated to be administered electronically, pose great opportunity for failure–and if students fail, teachers, whose jobs will depend on students’ success, also get a failing grade. What if, she asked, a student is contending with “a computer mouse that sticks or has a low battery? What if the screen freezes? What if the headphones keep falling off her head or hurts her ears because she just got her ears pierced?” Too many “variables” are in play “when reviewing test scores” for them to hold such weight on those who have committed themselves to the education of our children.

According to Hinze, standardized testing comes down to this:

Do children come in standard models? Are they predictable? Do they all share the same interest? Do they all share the same home, family life, opportunities, and limitations? Do they all have the same appetites? Do they all fear the same things? Do they all sleep through the night? Do they all have the same allergies, or athletic abilities?

Do teachers come in standard models? Do they all have the same personality? Do they all speak with the same tone of voice?

As there is no standard or common student, there is no standard or common teacher, which means there should be no standard or common–or Common Core–test to judge either.

Another Amendment 3 concern is that it freezes teachers out of the process. Rather than including the chief stakeholders, it “prohibits teachers from organizing or collectively bargaining regarding the design and implementation of the teacher evaluation system.” Not involving the very people who have the most to lose is what also turned many off about the Common Core standards. Interestingly, Amendment 3 does not even mention Common Core, but Hinze is convinced it will be the chosen educator assessment measure, and concerning that, she asserted:

Note that if teacher evaluations and school performance are tied directly to a Common Core-aligned national assessment, teachers and districts will need to use Common Core-aligned curriculum to teach. Our public school students will be taught to the test–a common, national test funded by the U.S. Department of Education.

I lived the life of which she speaks. Despite insistence from Common Core pushers that it is a set of standards and not a curriculum, the reality is when students are tested based on certain standards and teachers judged by those test scores, the standards then become the curriculum. They dictate the day-to-day classroom lessons. Creativity takes a back seat to test prep, and test prep becomes the norm. After all, jobs are on the line. 

And though this whole process is unfair to educators, students pay the ultimate price.

From my experience in New York, students feel the weight of these tests on their shoulders more than anyone. Not only do students carry the pressure to perform, they are weighted with the knowledge that their performance has a lasting effect on teachers. If they like a teacher, they want desperately to perform well for him or her. If they do not like a teacher, some view the test as an opportunity to get even. And in New York, where students are evaluated on several tests to demonstrate improvement over time, students actually ask, “Is this the test I’m not supposed to do well on?” Yes, they will purposely underperform so that they manage to show growth down the road. No wonder students are responding “viscerally” during these tests–crying, puking on their desks, and losing control of their bowels–and parents are opting their children out of testing altogether.

If Amendment 3 fails Tuesday, those who complain that teachers are not being held accountable will ask how to acquire that accountability without it. Hinze insisted that there is a way. She stated, however, that standardized tests fall short. They cannot measure a student who is not learning at the rate of his classmates because he is tired or hungry. “Engaged teachers will know when their students are having a good day versus a day they might not be feeling up to par,” she said. “An engaged teacher will use this ‘data’ to teach the student. As a result, the student will learn at his maximum level each and every day based on his daily circumstances.” Hinze went on to say that while standardized tests cannot measure these things, daily work can. “The daily work gives a much better picture of how the student grasps the concepts. A test score only shows how that student did on that one specific day.”

The best way to evaluate a teacher is to actually be in the classroom at least once a quarter, Hinze proposed. If parents, current and former teachers, and trained administrators did so, evaluations would actually gauge a teacher’s effectiveness. Hinze is especially fond of the idea of parents evaluating teachers because engaged parents, through observing their children’s homework, struggles, and celebrations of success, are able to determine–over time–how things are progressing. “Engaged parents will know if their student has an engaged teacher,” she said.