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February 6, 2012 at 5:00 PM

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State lawmakers and their views on education reform

Do we really want a one-size-fits-all statewide evaluation system?

Editor, The Times:

In Seattle, we teachers and the district have set in place a progressive teacher-evaluation system [“A lack of courage on education reform,” Opinion, Feb. 5]. It centers on a four-level plan with descriptors of teacher practice across 22 components, clearly showing evaluators and educators what is unsatisfactory and what is exemplary.

Next year in year three of its implementation, student growth, as measured by test scores, will be part of the evaluation process for those of us who teach the tested subjects.

The editorial is misleading in stating that efforts to tie student test scores to teacher evaluations that “have been rejected by the teachers union.” Drawing conclusions from student test scores is a complex topic, and we in Seattle are in the midst of developing a rational accountability system. I am disappointed that The Seattle Times supports a bill creating a one-size-fits-all statewide evaluation system, one that will undermine the groundbreaking work we are doing in Seattle.

— Donna Shy, Seattle

Test results are a better idea

The Seattle Times accuses state Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, D-Bothell, and Rep. Sharon Tomiko Santos, D-Seattle, of lacking courage on education reform. They are the voices of reason in this debate. It takes courage to stand up against Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, and Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, who have gotten a lot of positive media attention in the last year for their simplistic, cheap fixes to very complex problems.

They wrote a “thoughtful bill” allowing charter schools in Washington. These experimental schools would take money away from an already underfunded public system, creating a new system that has only had a 20 percent success rate nationwide. They also suggest a naive plan to hold teachers accountable by using test scores as part of their evaluation.

Ask anyone with a working knowledge of a classroom and they will tell you the many reasons why this will not improve education. Having teachers use test results to inform their instruction is a much better idea. Teachers and administrators have been working for the last two years to develop a new teacher- and principal-evaluation system that will be in place by 2013. Using research, best practices, pilot data and surveys, they are developing a system that will lead to improved teaching, learning and leadership.

It will be a fair and well-thought-out system. This is the correct way to work toward solving a complicated problem.

— Julie Reeder, Seattle

Listen to classroom teachers

The Seattle Times editorial board consistently publishes negative, inaccurate, and now intimidating education editorials including photos of legislators who dare to question charter schools and use of student achievement in teacher evaluations.

These legislators, along with teaching professionals, know charter schools drain limited finances. Fully fund the schools we have rather than gamble on alternatives with few proven results.

Evaluations based on student achievement are unreliable, evaluation of teaching practices are reliable and measurable. Teachers cannot control free will and outside factors. If this were the case, refunds of the child-tax credit could be tied to good behavior, since parents could be held accountable for their kids. Teachers cannot make someone perform any more than a parent can make a child behave.

To write, “the teacher’s union and the Democrats that do their bidding” is ridiculous. These legislators simply take time to listen to classroom teachers. Ask us what we need to succeed, provide proper funding and improvements will follow.

— Gail Bauman, Seattle

State testing is a valuable tool but there are more factors involved

Regarding The Seattle Times editorial board’s comments about teacher evaluations for holding teachers accountable using student-growth measures, state test scores are not the means for achieving this goal. One reason is that test scores show patterns over three to four years. A single test score is not a good measure of a teacher’s effectiveness. Another reason is that all subjects are not tested every year.

Science is only tested in fifth, eighth and 10th grades. Social studies is not tested at all. How will we evaluate a teacher for whom their particular subject is not tested in a given year?

There are many factors that influence student achievement, and therefore, test scores. Support at home, family-income level, and attendance all influence a student’s ability to achieve.

These are factors over which teachers have no control, but which will influence the evaluation of their effectiveness.

If teacher evaluations are connected to test scores, teachers will adapt by teaching to the test, removing broader and deeper exploration of the subject. This could lead, in extreme cases, to cheating. State testing is a valuable tool when used in conjunction with other assessment tools, but as a tool for evaluating teachers, it is the wrong tool.

— Scott and Telly Presho, Brier

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