PURE testimony on teacher evaluation in Chicago

November 7, 2011

To the Illinois Performance Evaluation Advisory Council

PURE believes that an effective assessment and accountability system is essential to an excellent public education for all children. We support assessment and accountability systems which are built on high-quality learning standards, incorporate multiple measures of student progress over time, value local assessment, respect parental rights, are transparent to the public, and demonstrably support improved teaching and learning.

Unfortunately, we are moving farther and farther away from establishing such a system. The federal No Child Left Behind Act created a massive explosion of testing in our nation, exacerbating the misuse and overemphasis on standardized tests across the U.S. Despite campaign rhetoric about reducing the amount of standardized testing, the Obama administration’s Race to the Top and Blueprint for Education Reform have actually expanded the dependence on these unreliable and unfair measures by, among other things, demanding that states use standardized tests to evaluate teachers.

While state legislatures and boards of education are leaping onto the test-based evaluation bandwagon, parents throughout the country are saying no to more testing. 

  • We don’t trust the promise of “better tests” aligned with the Common Core standards.

  • We have learned that merit pay and other high-stakes test-based evaluation systems don’t improve learning.

  • Experts at the National Academy of Sciences and the Economic Policy Institute have cited the unreliability of value-added or “growth” measures in warnings about the potentially damaging consequences of implementing test-based evaluation systems.

  • We know that standardized tests are designed for specific purposes, and that test makers warn against using them in ways for which they are not intended.

In just the last two days, we’ve learned about the disastrous Tennessee teacher evaluation program and an open letter written by New York State principals opposed to a similar process they are being forced to carry out there. A while ago, we read about the teacher evaluation system in Montgomery County, Maryland, which is highly effective without using test score data. The district refused $12 million in Race to the Top funds because accepting the money would require a change in that policy and, according to the superintendent, “We don’t believe the tests are reliable. You don’t want to turn your school into a test factory.”

Chicago’s schools are already test factories. This proposal will make that terrible situation worse for our children. Let’s learn from other states’ mistakes, save our children and their teachers from the potentially disastrous consequences of bad policy making, and choose not to waste millions or perhaps billions of dollars on another failed experiment.

Instead of the test-driven strategies favored (and heavily promoted) by non-educators, we need to look towards a vision of education reform that is strongly rooted in democratic principles and supported by ample research. Our children deserve no less. We support the expansion of proven reforms, such as small classes, parent involvement, experienced teachers, a well-rounded curriculum that connects learning to children's own lives, and evaluation systems with high-quality, multiple assessments.

Specifically, regarding state assessment and accountability systems, we recommend that they:

Require that states allow parents to opt their children out of any state or local standardized test.

Specify regular public review and revision of state learning standardsand related assessments.

Locate the key accountability elements at the local school level.

Bar the use of tests for any purpose different from that for which the test was explicitly designed.

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About the PURE Thoughts blogger
Julie Woestehoff is PURE's executive director. Julie's work has earned her a Ford Foundation award and recognition as one of the 100 Most Powerful Women in Chicago.