The Legislature overwhelmingly passed new rules that promote local control and fairness in educator evaluations. These rules recognize the limitations of student results on standardized tests and allow a broader range of student learning measures to factor into evaluations. They are the outcome of more than two years of bipartisan work informed by educators and experts.
These facts, however, did not protect the measure from Gov. Paul LePage’s veto pen.
We need to take the evaluation of educators seriously if we want Maine children to succeed. To give us real insight and hold educators accountable, these evaluations must be based on sound practices and meaningful assessments.
In justifying his veto of L.D. 1747, the governor opined that student test scores should account for at least 20 percent of educators’ evaluations. It’s an arbitrary number. The endeavor around educator evaluation rules is taking place so Maine can receive a waiver from the onerous requirements of the No Child Left Behind Act, which make no mention of a 20 percent requirement.
Experts from across the nation disagree with the governor about the weight of student test scores in educator evaluations. Professionals in the fields of statistics, education and psychometrics have written extensively about the limits of evaluating public school educators based on tests such as those under development for Maine by the Smarter Balance Assessment Consortium.
The governor cited comments from a narrow selection of testimony from the bill’s public hearing before the Legislature’s Education and Cultural Affairs Committee. He failed to note, however, the testimony of the many educators who spoke frankly and with expertise before the committee.
A school speech pathologist from Waterville explained that not all grades or subject areas will be evaluated by Smarter Balanced Assessments. For example, there will be no tests for the youngest public school students (nor should there be) nor for chemistry, German, music or physical education students. Thus, depending on the subject and grade level, some teachers will not be evaluated in the same manner.
A Winslow social studies teacher testified about learning from Henry H. Schmidt, a co-director of the Education Policy Center at Michigan State University, that Smarter Balanced Assessments should not be used to make inferences about anything — teacher evaluations included — within their first four years.
An experienced school superintendent from Falmouth spoke about her schools’ progress in developing a rigorous system of teacher evaluation that uses classroom observation and teacher portfolios and provided evidence of the validity of such performance-based methods.
A secondary language teacher from Raymond spoke about the diversity of her students, stating the most obvious reality understood by teachers everywhere: “There are all sorts of things impacting my students’ learning over which I have little or no influence.”
At the hearing, I cited articles from an Education Policy Analysis Archives special issue about what policymakers need to know about the misuse of student test scores for teacher evaluation. One article noted that policy development focuses on these evaluation models with “unwarranted levels of certainty and conviction.” In other words, the governor’s conviction that at least 20 percent of a student’s “failure must be rooted in teaching and that teacher should be held accountable” is not supported by researchers of student achievement and standardized testing.
Furthermore, the American Statistical Association urges caution in using these types of evaluations to evaluate individual teacher effectiveness. These models typically measure correlation rather than causation, so it is never truly clear whether a student’s test results are the result of the teacher, changes in testing conditions or some other factor. Smarter Balanced Assessments cannot measure other ways that teachers contribute to students’ development — areas such as creativity, self-confidence, inquisitiveness, empathy and cooperativeness.
The Education Committee understood this testimony, recognized that the 20 percent requirement is arbitrary and saw that alternate proportions can satisfy federal requirements. It advanced a measure that allows school districts to establish local work groups of administrators and teachers to decide on a proportional weight for such tests while also crafting other aspects of a thorough educator evaluation system.
It is time for policymakers to use research and reason rather than ideology to support their decisions and make public education work best for our students. Rather than use tests that misjudge teacher effectiveness, L.D. 1747 would allow schools to develop educator evaluation systems that are comprehensive, effective, valid and based on a strong foundation of knowledge about effective teaching.
I urge legislators to override the governor’s veto.
Rep. Karen Kusiak, D-Fairfield, is a first-term legislator and represents Fairfield, Rome and Smithfield. She serves on the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Committee.