Opting out of testing in Connecticut — now a civic duty

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Since implementation of the new teacher evaluation system by Gov. Dannel Malloy and the legislature, I have believed opting out of standardized testing was a student right. I now see it as a civic responsibility.

Under the current system, 45 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student test scores. According to a 2014 Brookings Institute study, however, teachers can elect not to be evaluated on the scores if a significant number of students do not show up to take their standardized tests. This is because having too few test takers can cause the test data to produce false results, labeling a teachers’ classes either high- or low-performing incorrectly.

What Malloy and the legislature did was a direct attack on public education under the guise of raising standards. Because of this, here is the narrative the system creates: Since students are failing tests, teachers must be poor performers. Therefore since public school teachers are poor performers, let us close down public education and privatize public schools.

Having observed countless Connecticut classrooms, I can tell you that basing almost half of a teacher’s rating on student test scores is too much in the first place. Then, when Gov. Malloy makes it impossible for us teacher candidates and teachers to present other evidence to establish our effectiveness — by eliminating lesson plans from consideration, for example — he compounds the problem.

Finally, researchers at the University of Connecticut’s NEAG School of Education, in a study released last year, reported that only 58 percent of teachers surveyed felt the rating they received from the state’s new evaluation system was accurate. Of the 533 teachers surveyed, more than half found no added value in the time they spent on their evaluations.

With these and other problems, the teacher evaluation system is a catastrophe. Although our state tried addressing many shortcomings through customization, it is the highly-destructive effects of accountability reform that teachers must resist. I insist – must resist.

Yes, teachers need to be evaluated. I would expect nothing less in any job. It is even more critical, especially in fields such as education, when a teacher receives job protection under union contract. It costs school districts hundreds to thousands of dollars to both hire and retain teachers. You want to protect your community investment.

Now, I understand teachers have to follow their district evaluation plan or they could be fired for insubordination. However, what is interesting is that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, formerly known as No Child Left Behind and now called Every Student Succeeds Act, does not require that teachers be evaluated by student test scores. That was what Race to the Top required in order for states to be eligible to apply for Race to the Top money; so states incorporated student test scores in their teacher evaluation process.

Is it time for the fight to end? No. This is only the beginning. We need to fight this war on common sense. We need to fight the war Connecticut and other states, such as New York, have declared on public education by supporting a better, fairer, evaluation system for teachers. Before we demand better comprehensive education reform, we must shout battle cries of “Opt-Out.”

We need these evaluations to fail if we want public school teachers to succeed.

Drew Michael McWeeney, 20, is an Early Childhood Education major and teacher candidate at Southern Connecticut State University.

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