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teaching to the test

Is 'Teaching to the Test' Finally Fading Away?

If you know a classroom teacher, you’ve no doubt encountered objections about being forced to “teach to the test.”

I’ve had countless dinner and social media conversations with frustrated teacher friends who have decried the restrictive nature of teacher evaluation, especially it’s focus on testing outcomes.

The era of No Child Left Behind brought a strict reliance on standardized testing to hold teachers and schools accountable for student growth. As a result, standardized test scores factor heavily—too heavily, according to many educators—into teacher evaluations, which also inform dismissal and compensation decisions.

The passage of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) two years ago, was largely in reaction to a perceived over-reliance on standardized testing. The new education law, currently being implemented, aims to give states more flexibility into how they assess district performance—and to find new factors for evaluation, such as student and parent engagement and school climate.

As a result, reports Liana Loewus in Education Week, several states are beginning to de-emphasize testing in the context of teacher evaluations. But the jury’s still out on how large—or how little—of a role that testing should play in teacher evaluations moving forward.

Turning the tide?

Since the passage of ESSA, six states—Alaska, Arkansas, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Oklahoma—have completely dropped requirements that teacher evaluations include measures of student growth, reports Loewus. Instead, states leave it up to districts to decide how teachers are assessed.

Three additional states—Connecticut, Nevada, and Utah—still require at least some measure of student growth as a factor in teacher evaluations, but restrict districts from factoring in test scores in those evaluations. Florida requires student growth as a measure of teacher performance, but leave it up to districts to determine how student growth is calculated.

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Many teachers will welcome this loosening of requirements for testing-based evaluation. The two major teachers unions, the American Federation of Teachers and the National Education Association, filed multiple lawsuits to fight these sorts of evaluation systems, writes Loewus.

But whether this new approach to teacher evaluation becomes a national trend, is still very much a question.

Jury’s still out

While some states see the advantage to granting districts flexibility in how they evaluate teachers, Loewus reports that many states may not be willing to abandon the standard system of teacher evaluation they’ve built.

Lawmakers and education policy wonks may have shifted their focus, but the machinery put in place by state education officials to assess school and teacher performance will not be easily—or quickly—changed. In some ways, writes Loewus, evaluation systems based on student test performance were just beginning to hit their stride when ESSA was passed.

“I don’t think anyone [is] overly enthusiastic to undo something they’d worked four to five years to roll out,” Michelle Extrom, a program director at the National Conference of State Legislatures, tells Education Week.

We’ll have to wait and see how teacher evaluation systems evolve over the next several years. Will measures such as student and parent engagement become larger factors in teacher evaluations? Will this shift away from standardized testing become the new normal in K-12 schools? Time will tell.

Is your state or district considering changing how they evaluate teacher performance? What other factors besides student growth are you using to measure teacher success? Tell us in the comments.