Another political theory debunked

Tom Dunn - Contributing Columnist

In a recent article I wrote that it took a worldwide pandemic to put a pause on some of the more nonsensical educational laws enacted by our legislature. These include high stakes tests for children, school report cards based on those test scores, and their use as a major portion of teacher evaluations.

Any time an educator (or former educator) denounces legislative mandates, especially the way teachers are evaluated, there are those who claim that it is only because we are afraid of being evaluated on our performance. Of course, these same people never provide research supporting their position. They simply repeat their “schools and teachers suck” mantra.

Well, that’s not good enough.

What educators demand is an evaluation process that makes sense.

Two of the more ridiculous components the legislature forces schools to use to evaluate teachers are called “value-added” and “shared attribution.”

According to “The Glossary of Education Reform,” “Value-added measures, or growth measures, are used to estimate or quantify how much of a positive (or negative) impact individual teachers have on student learning during the course of a given school year.”

To put this in simple terms, value-added supposes to determine the specific degree to which a teacher determines how much a student learns.

That, of course, is utter nonsense, which should have stopped its implementation in its tracks.

But, it didn’t.

Now, to be fair, some school administrators disagree with my harsh assessment of the value-added process. In fact, some who I highly respect, believe in it, and they can point to research supporting their belief; just as I can point to research, and even court cases, supporting mine. After all, reasonable people can disagree on an issue.

This disagreement provided politicians with the perfect scenario under which they could have implemented the concept of “local control” they claim to support. School administrators who believed in the value-added method could have used it to evaluate their teachers while those of us who did not could have engaged in what we felt were more meaningful conversations with teachers about their improvement.

But, they don’t really believe in local control, so they didn’t offer that option. Instead, they mandated that all schools use test scores as a major part of the teacher evaluation process whether local administrators believed in it or not and regardless of what the research says.

After all, they always know better, right?

Now, some of the more disingenuous lawmakers will argue that they did indeed allow for local control. They will point to the fact that districts were allowed to decide if student test scores would determine35 or 50 percent of a teacher’s evaluation. Districts that chose the lesser percentage had to play some other foolish games to complete an evaluation, so few took that option.

Those same politicians would argue that, while they did force us to participate in the value-added process, they did allow us to decide if we wanted it to play a bigger or smaller part of the evaluation.

In other words, we were allowed to randomly decide how much of a bad idea we wanted to adopt, but ignoring the bad idea was not an option.

That’s not local control.

But, they weren’t done yet. Since not all teachers teach subjects for which test scores are available, the decision-makers at the state level were faced with quite the conundrum. After all, it wouldn’t be fair have some teachers’ evaluations be impacted by test scores while allowing others to escape the foolishness.

So, they came up with the “shared attribution” concept. Under this concept, for example, up to half of a physical education teacher’s evaluation could be based on how the students in his or her building performed on reading and math tests.

Get it? The political definition of “sharing” is evaluating teachers using test scores from students they did not see in subjects they did not teach.

Are you confused yet? Well, you should be, because it makes no sense.

Bill and Melinda Gates (yes, that Bill Gates) were so convinced that evaluating teachers based on student test scores would improve teachers and, thus, student achievement that they spent over $200 million of their own money to implement it. Of course, trillions of our tax dollars were also spent. But, research by the RAND Corporation has shown that their idea didn’t work. In particular, it made little to no difference to low income and minority students, which was their primary focus.

Now, those of us who have watched kids develop for decades could have saved Mr. and Mrs. Gates a lot of money, saved trillions of tax dollars, and saved teachers and administrators the headache of implementing a failed concept had they or the lawmakers they influenced just asked.

But, they didn’t. And, despite the evidence that their idea has no merit, had the pandemic not come along, the foolishness would be continuing today.

Because that’s just how they roll.

Tom Dunn

Contributing Columnist

Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.

Tom Dunn is the former superintendent of the Miami County Educational Service Center.