Number 2 pencilsIf the current version of the proposed teacher evaluation regulations is adopted by the State Board of Education, New Jersey’s students will be taking more tests—standardized and otherwise—than ever before. And because students will spend period after period taking these tests, the curriculum will narrow as the doctrine of “what is tested is what is taught” casts a shadow over our state.

The N.J. Department of Education (NJDOE) has proposed that teachers of grades 4-8 math and language arts have 35 percent of their annual summative rating based on student growth on the NJ ASK. At this point, grades 4-8 math and language arts teachers comprise less than 20 percent of our teacher workforce. But as standardized tests are developed for more courses, and we know they will be, more students will be taking tests and more teachers will have Student Growth Percentiles (SGPs).

What about the 80+ percent of teachers who currently do not teach a tested subject or grade level? Fifteen percent of their summative ratings will be based on Student Growth Objectives (SGOs). The department defines SGOs as “academic goals for groups of students that can be tracked using objective measures.” Wondering what those objective measures might be? You guessed it—more tests, such as “national norm-referenced tests (e.g., Advanced Placement exams, DIBELS), state-developed tests (e.g., biology end-of-course exam), and district-developed tests (e.g., final exams, benchmark tests).”

To be fair, the department has stated that a locally developed measure of student growth need not be a test—it could be some type of portfolio or performance assessment. In certain subjects, such as art, physical education and music, these approaches make sense. But there seems little doubt that in many classes, students will be increasingly subjected to paper and pencil tests--all for the purpose of evaluating their teacher.

Naturally, some of these tests will have to be given during the first week of school. Pre-tests will become the norm as it will be difficult to determine how much students have grown academically during a school year without knowing the level of their skills and knowledge in September. Few things undermine a student’s confidence and motivation more than a test on something he or she has yet to be taught.

If the NJDOE has its way, student growth data will be given even greater emphasis in teacher evaluation in the years ahead. Department officials have expressed their hope that SGPs and SGOs will eventually count for 50 percent of a teacher’s rating. And because principals will also be judged on student growth data under the proposed evaluation system, the inevitable push for higher test scores will mean more time spent on test prep and less time for learning. Some schools are already considering  special sessions on the Common Core in math and language arts at the expense of instruction in science and social studies.

NJEA has made this argument time and time again, but it bears repeating: too much emphasis on test scores will weaken good teaching and increase stress for students. Test scores are appropriate when used as one part of multiple measures of student performance, but those multiple measures must include more than a variety of standardized tests. For the sake of the children, teacher evaluation should focus on teacher practice and not on high-stakes tests that fail to increase student achievement.

See for yourself

The proposed regulations and other materials from the N.J. Department of Education can be found at www.state.nj.us/education. Click on the “AchieveNJ” button.

Articles and research cautioning against the use of student test scores to evaluate teachers.