Debate continues over weight of student test scores in teacher evaluations

Posted April 24, 2013, at 8:22 p.m.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A lengthy and ongoing legislative debate over how much student test scores should count when evaluating teachers continued Wednesday with a new proposal to limit the scores’ impact to 10 percent.

Boothbay Democrat Rep. Bruce MacDonald’s bill, An Act to Limit the Effect of Standardized Tests on Teacher Evaluations, comes a year after the Legislature voted unanimously to implement a teacher and principal evaluation process that is set to go into effect for the 2015-16 school year. The law says that student test data must constitute a significant factor in a teacher’s evaluation. Ever since its passage, educators, lawmakers and the Department of Education have been debating just how much that should be.

The Department of Education, which is in the midst of developing rules related to the evaluations, has favored having student test scores account for up to 25 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Some members of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council, which has been studying the issue, favor 10 percent or less.

“The MEA would argue that standardized tests should actually account for zero percent,” said John Kosinski, the group’s government relations director. “I want to point out that the more reliance that we place on standardized tests, the more stress we’re putting on test takers and test givers.”

Deborah Friedman, director of policy and programs for the Department of Education, said the department’s proposed rules have been forwarded to legislative leaders but have not yet been given to the Education Committee for review.

“The department isn’t opposed in theory to placing some kind of limit on this,” Friedman said. “But we would ask you to be careful about putting on a limit.”

MacDonald’s bill initially called for limiting the weight of student test data on teacher evaluations to 30 percent, but he said during testimony to the Education Committee Wednesday that he has amended that to 10 percent.

“Using student results on standardized tests in evaluating teachers is a very bad idea,” said MacDonald, who cited reasons ranging from students who don’t take the tests seriously to educators who cheat to garner better results.

But some disagreed, such as RSU 74 Superintendent Kenneth Coville, who is a member of the Maine Educator Effectiveness Council, which has been developing the teacher and principal evaluation rules. He said that numerous studies have shown that standardized tests are actually among the best measures of teacher effectiveness.

“Really the key is what we need to follow the research and go where the facts lead us,” Coville said. “It is very clear that first of all a small percentage such as 10 percent will simply not have any significant impact. The key is to design the system so it’s in everyone’s best interest that the scores are honest.”

Elaine Tomaszewski of the Maine School Management Association urged lawmakers to delay action on the bill, at least until they have the Department of Education’s proposed rules before them.

“It is inappropriate to try to legislate this in advance, since the rule has not been reviewed by the Legislature,” Tomaszewski said. “Don’t get sidetracked by trying to amend the rule in advance.”

MacDonald’s bill has not yet been scheduled for a work session.

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