Connecticut teachers urged lawmakers Monday to erase standardized test scores from teacher evaluations.
David Cicarella, president of the New Haven Federation of Teachers, said test data from the state’s Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium test should “inform and drive our instruction” but not be used to weigh the skills of educators.
The Connecticut Education Association and its allies are pressing for a measure that would decouple the test scores from rating teachers, who have to deal with students from widely varying backgrounds.
But supporters, including the Connecticut Association of Public School Superintendents, urged legislators to back off from the idea at least until a state advisory council completes its work toward a new evaluation system.
During an Education Committee hearing Monday that drew testimony from both sides, state Education Commissioner Dianna Wentzell came down solidly on the opposite side as the teachers union. “An outright ban is ill-advised,” she said.
Kathleen Koljian, a Windham High School teacher, decried the “over-reliance on testing” that ignores the reality that many factors beyond a teacher’s control impact children.
“Many teachers in urban districts feel disenfranchised and disadvantaged by the linking of test score to our professional status,” she told legislators. “The continuation of this practice is likely to drive highly qualified teachers out of urban districts where they are badly needed.”
But the issue is far more tangled.
The Rev. Carl McCluster, the 22-year senior minister of Shiloh Baptist Church in Bridgeport, said that failing to take test scores into account would roll back progress for children in his community.
Rep. Bruce Morris, D-Bridgeport, worried the proposal to block the use of test scores might have a negative effect on “our most vulnerable children, students of color and those from low-income backgrounds.”
McCluster said they are sending a mixed message to their children if they don’t allow testing to be included in teacher evaluations.
“We tell our children that the cream will always rise to the top,” McCluster said. “What are we saying to them when we discard evaluation of measurable results as a benchmark of understanding the effectiveness and value of the many teachers who do not fear making their earnest efforts and excellent accomplishments known?”
Wentzell said that a state survey of teachers found that 56 percent of them want the option of including test results as part of their evaluations, while only 18 percent want to bar their use.
Joseph Cirasuolo, the executive director of the superintendents association, said there’s no reason to rush to judgment. He called teacher evaluations a “very complex” issue that “needs to be looked at carefully.”
East Hartford Superintendent Nathan Quesnel said his district is concerned about the sweeping change sought by those who would block use of test scores. He said it would undermine collaborative efforts under way among teachers, principals, and administrators.
Using the test results to help redesign classroom instruction to assist individual students could be “the catalyst that will help Connecticut close our achievement gap,” said RoseAnne O’Brien Vojtek, principal of Bristol’s Ivy Drive School.
Yet teachers who oppose using student test scores offered a different take on the issue.
Patti Fusco, a West Haven teacher who is a vice president of the American Federation of Teachers in Connecticut, said that teachers “agree that they should be accountable for making sure that their students are learning.”
“Teachers agree that students need to be making growth in mastery of the curriculum standards that they will need to become productive members of society,” she said. “It makes no sense to grade us on a test that we have no control over. Grade us on what we teach.”
As it stands, the evaluation process is under review by the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council. There is, for now, no requirement that test scores be included in assessing teachers.
Taking a step now to block their use would be “incredibly premature,” Enfield Superintendent Jeffrey Schumann said.
“We need time to gather some data,” said Karissa Niehoff, the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Schools. Until all the information is available, she told legislators, “do not take away the opportunity” to rely in part on test scores.