Providing exceptional education to all students requires more accountability, not less

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CTMirror.org

The release of Connecticut’s teacher evaluation results in a school-funding trial has revealed that only 1 percent of teachers were evaluated as either “below standard” or “developing.” Recently, a CT Mirror story covered a discussion among members of the Connecticut Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) about whether and how to amend the teacher evaluation process. In that story, Connecticut unions represented that the inclusion of a state assessment in the evaluation process is unfair to teachers. But, as a former teacher, principal, and superintendent, and a father of six Connecticut children—it strikes me as somewhat obvious that, quite to the contrary, these results indicate a strong, existing bias in favor of protecting teachers from data.

It’s easy to understand why union leaders would like to eliminate a statewide, standardized assessment: because they are charged with protecting their membership, and they don’t want to see Connecticut building a database of statistically relevant data that could threaten job protections. They also don’t want to see data being misused in a way that could harm good teachers. But that isn’t happening in our state.

Instead, we are looking to establish a combination of subjective and objective measures to evaluate teachers so that we can track long-term trends, monitor which efforts impact gaps in achievement, and work to develop excellence within the teaching profession.

For efforts like those, standardized assessments are incredibly important.

Indeed, their importance is already being acknowledged on the national stage. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) was recently approved by Congress in an unusual display of bipartisan support. What particularly stood out to me when the bill was signed into law was that—following a great deal of debate and lobbying—the ESSA continues to mandate annual state assessments. This decision underscores a recognition of the important role of such assessments, like the Smarter Balanced Assessment (SBAC), in our education system. These tests are an essential tool for ensuring that our public schools deliver to every child a great education—a chance to be exceptional, without exception.

Unlike the SBAC, locally developed tests just can’t do that job. They do not stand up to the statistical rigors that allow us to accurately compare results between schools, districts, and states. We need such comparisons to be valid if we want to hold school systems accountable and learn from each other about what helps different types of students to succeed.

In our state, one of our biggest challenges is that we have large gaps in achievement between black, Latino, poor, and special need students and their wealthier, white peers. If we were to eliminate the state’s annual assessment, it would be nearly impossible for us to know whether our schools were helping to narrow those gaps by meeting the needs of disadvantaged student subgroups.

I’ve been an educator for two decades, and if Connecticut were unfairly using data against its teachers, I’d be the first to object. But when the data are as skewed as these recent evaluation results in Connecticut, that tells me that we actually need to find more balance in favor of accountability. Connecticut’s legislature has responded to concerns about teacher evaluations by establishing the Performance Evaluation Advisory Council and charging it with managing that process. Let’s let PEAC do its work.

Jeffrey Villar is Executive Director of the Connecticut Council for Education Reform and the former superintendent of Windsor and Rocky Hill Public Schools.

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