TEA: State tests not valid for evaluating teachers


The Tennessee Education Association sent Rick Colbert, the TEA general counsel, to Wilson County to speak about the problems with TNReady testing this week.

The Tennessee Education Association sent Rick Colbert, the TEA general counsel, to Wilson County to speak about the problems with TNReady testing this week.

While he didn't tell teachers anything they didn't already suspect, he did make it clear that TEA supports teachers and school systems in the call for fairness in the use of the scores.

He said school boards statewide have been asking the state to declare a one-year moratorium on using the test scores for teacher evaluation. But he explained that TEA is convinced that the tests should not be used in that way at all.

'Invalid measure'

Colbert claimed that the American Educational Research Association (AERA) has determined that value-added scores are not valid as a measure of teacher effectiveness.

The AERA statement said the "state tests and these measures of evaluating teachers don't seem to be associated with the things we think of as defining good teaching." In effect, it said the scores are not valid for measuring teaching.

However, the State of Tennessee continues to count those scores as 35 percent of a teacher's evaluation score. And that score determines raises and tenure for those teachers.

"The testing premise requires a random distribution of students, but in fact there is no such thing," Colbert told the 100 or so educators present at the meeting at the Wilson County Fairgrounds, sponsored by the Wilson County Education Association (WCEA). "It (a classroom or single school) is too small a pool of subjects, so there are lots of errors."

'Data easily skewed'

A small pool of subjects can skew the data, Colbert continued, to the point that a teacher whose students show good growth but with a large pool of them can actually be rated at a lower level than a teacher with less impressive student growth but a smaller pool of subjects.

He also said that in assessment, the evidence must be given that the test is valid for every intended use, and that has not been done with these tests.

Instead, the state has determined that results from a cohort of six or more students are sufficient to supply the data to evaluate any teacher who taught them, Colbert gave as an example of random and insufficiently justified criteria.

When TVAAS Director Dr. John White was asked how the state came up with "the number six" in a deposition that Colbert took from White in a lawsuit last November, White answered, "It was one more than five."

'It's up to state'

Colbert showed a video clip of that exchange to the teachers Tuesday night, documenting it, in effect. However, Colbert also cautioned the teachers that it doesn't matter if the test is valid or not in terms of what state legislators can require.

"The state as a policymaker can choose to adopt any theory even if it is untested," he said.

According to materials handed out at the event, the state has already granted a waiver to students so their test scores do not have to be included in their final grades.

TEA President Barbara Gray says this is proof that "the tide is turning against using standardized test scores in high-stakes decisions."

'Reverse course?'

In this case, decisions are about how well a student has learned in school, but the decision about how well a teacher teaches may need to be exempted from inclusion in the testing, too, according to Gray.

But it may be a long process. "Getting the state to reverse course on tying all things to standardized tests is a long process," said TEA chief lobbyist Jim Wrye. But the organization is working on the problem and says it will continue to do so.

'Teaching the test'

One parent who was present pointed out some other issues she has with the test. Not all children have the same options to prepare for the testing, Robin Vestor said.

Her child, for example, only has access to computers at school for about one hour per week. Other students who have computers at home are much more computer literate, and the test is given on a computer. Part of what it tests is how well the child can use a computer, she said.

Vestor also said the fact that testing is used to determine whether teachers get raises or even keep their jobs forces them to focus on teaching the child to do well on the test.

"My child is not being taught to learn, she's being taught to take the test," she said.

TEA agrees - they're giving out bumper stickers saying "Test the Child, Not the Test."

Writer Connie Esh may be contacted at cewrites@yahoo.com.

© 2016 The Wilson Post

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