Teacher Evaluation: Test-and-Punish is more about perception than reality!

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” – Franklin Roosevelt

The June 10 announcement by the Gates Foundation, which is one the “country’s largest donors to educational causes and a strong backer of the academic guidelines known as the Common Core, calling for a two-year moratorium on states or school districts making any high-stakes decisions based on tests aligned with the new standards” caught many by surprise.

The “high-stakes” decisions referred to in the announcement relate to accountability sanctions levied on schools as well as to new teacher evaluation systems currently being implemented in a number of states. These teacher evaluations systems now require that a significant portion of a teacher’s evaluation (up to 50 percent) be based on test scores related to the new, more rigorous standards. These evaluations are meant to inform teacher retention and hiring decisions.

The simultaneous implementation of the Common Core Standards, new state data systems for measuring school progress, and new teacher evaluation systems, which include student test scores, has overwhelmed school leaders and teachers and has resulted in considerable pushback from educators nationwide, particularly in Race to the Top states like New York, which fast-tracked its Common Core implementation and new teacher evaluation system. The perceived lack of fairness has driven a number of organizations like NASSP, NEA, and AFT to recommend a moratorium on the consequences related to the assessments tied to the new standards.

Vicki Phillips, the director of education for the Gates Foundation, wrote that “the best new ideas aren’t self-fulfilling; they have to be put into practice wisely.” She added: “No evaluation system will work unless teachers believe it is fair and reliable, and it’s very hard to be fair in a time of transition. The standards need time to work. Teachers need time to develop lessons, receive more training, get used to the new tests and offer their feedback.”

Punishment is a Phantom

In Much Ado About a Phantom: Education Brouhaha over Test-and-Punish is a State of Mind, Not State of Reality, Anne Hyslop makes that case that our lack of awareness about the reality of accountability is causing us to overreact to alleged threats of punishment and sanctions, particularly those related to teacher evaluations.

“It’s that the “punish” part of “test-and-punish” doesn’t exist. At least not right now. Thanks to the Obama administration’s No Child Left Behind waivers, there don’t have to be stakes, for anyone, on upcoming state tests. None.”

In fact, high stakes don’t have to enter the picture until Spring 2017.

Teacher Evaluation Timeline


“Under the current guidelines, teachers could get two ratings and two rounds of “support and improvement” before any stakes are involved (and even then, federal leverage is limited in terms of how much evaluations must inform personnel decisions). And don’t forget, the Department has also let states apply for an extra year to use evaluations to “inform” those decisions. That delays full implementation until as late as Spring 2018. Simply, the debate over whether there should be consequences for teachers during the transition to new assessments often obscures the fact that a no-stakes period is already standard federal policy. And now that the Department is relaxing its review process for extending the waivers, they could be opening the door to even more delays.”

The reality of current federal policy is that our reactions have much more to do with our perceptions than with the actual policy.

“Accountability systems under NCLB waivers aren’t perfect, and we must continue to refine their design and execution. But they aren’t responsible for the test-and-punish culture at work in far too many schools and districts. What really warrants a transformation isn’t accountability… it’s our response to it.”

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