Minn. Lawmaker’s Proposal Puts Teachers To The Test

By John Lauritsen, WCCO-TV

ST. PAUL (WCCO) — If some lawmakers have their way, a teacher’s future could depend on how well their students grade-out.

The idea of tying job ratings to student test scores was heard in the Minnesota House Tuesday and has a lot of support.

Like students are evaluated by a report card, teachers would technically be evaluated the same way. As part of the evaluation, 40 to 50 percent of a teacher’s rating would be based on student test results. It could mean the difference between keeping a teaching job and getting fired.

When it comes to grading teachers, Ryan Vernosh would likely receive an “A.” He is the 2010 Minnesota Teacher of the Year and currently teaches 5th graders at Maxfield Magnet School in St. Paul. He also supports teacher evaluation, but doesn’t support this idea.

“We want to be held accountable, but we want to be held accountable in a fair method. To say it comes down to those teaching tests is inherently iniquitous,” said Vernosh.

Vernosh and other educators believe a lot of factors go into a student’s test scores. One of the key factors, they say, is poverty. Ninety-nine percent of the students at Maxfield Magnet School eat lunch for free because their families can’t afford it. When poverty levels are high, Vernosh says students are dealing with factors outside of school that effect their test-taking.

“I don’t think a one-hour snapshot in 180 school days gives accurate measurement of student and teacher performance. Students are not tests. They are not bubble sheets. They are human beings. Passing this would take away a teacher’s opportunity to teach students in a creative manner. They would be teaching more to a test than to student needs,” said Vernosh.

However, State Rep. Branden Petersen (R-Andover) disagrees.

“There are teachers that go five, six, even 10 years without getting a formal review,” said Petersen.

Under Petersen’s proposal, teacher tenure would be thrown out in favor of 5-year contracts. Teachers would then be evaluated each year and student testing would be half of that evaluation. After five years, teachers who don’t evaluate well could be terminated while those that grade high can receive bonuses.

“It moves from a quality blind system to a system based on merit. In something as important as our kid’s education we need to have those high standards and base those standards on student achievement,” said Petersen.

More from John Lauritsen
  • Chuck

    So, teachers go 5 or 6 years without a formal review. What is the job of the administrator anyhow? Maybe we need to make it easier to get rid of admininsration. If they do their job, teachers can be fired and or not renewed. A new teacher does not get tenure until their 3rd contract. If administration does their job, bad or poor teachers just do not get renewed.

  • steve

    What about the classes such as music, art, phy ed? How do those kids get tested? This is not a well-though out plan.

  • dmc

    Can someone please tell me how teachers of students who are severe profound Cognitively delay will be measured – since they can’t take these tests?

    Teachers are re-evaluated every 3 years in most school districts and the administrators should be doing their jobs and if they are not – they should be gone. It is not impossible to get rid of a less than stellar teacher you just have to provide documentation and provide some training/coaching.

    Talk about fixing a non-existant problem.

  • JT

    Mr. Peterson and other representatives that support this bill need to spend some time in the public schools, so they can see how these tests are affecting a child’s education. I can tell you from personal experience that it is not for the better. Students are not robots and not all the same. What is achievement for one may look very different for another student. Students may have made huge gains in one year under a teacher, but that won’t count under this system if they don’t pass the test.

    Seems like a simple formula–students fail a test–teachers are to blame. Unfortunately, like a lot of things in life, there are other factors that need to be taken into consideration, and there are better ways to evaluate teachers.

    Maybe instead of focusing on this issue representatives should focus on how they can better support schools and teachers that are struggling with issues of poverty, cuts, large class sizes, and inadequate facilities. Seems to me those are bigger issues here than how a teacher is evaluated. Don’t we pay administrators big money to do teacher evaluations at a district level? Wouldn’t they be in the best position to determine what should be evaluated and whether a teacher is making it at their individual schools? Talk about more government micro-managing. Minnesota’s students continue to score highest in the nation on the ACT test, Here is a link http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/08/18/act-results/ Seems like teachers are doing their jobs.

  • Concerned Educator

    If individuals such as Mr. Pederson were graded on the success of our economy and the effectiveness of our healthcare system, they would all be fired. The problem here goes beyond the problem of student achievement. The real issue is that we have politicians who have absolutely no experience in education trying to fumble through the paper and make an ignorant guess as to what will solve the “problem.” One teacher can have a classroom full of “grade-level” students who come from a middle to upper class family. Those students will most likely score very well. The teacher would be commended and would receive a bonus. The next year, that same teacher may receive a class full of students who live in poverty and perform two levels below their expected grade level. This teacher could put ten times the energy into these students, and they would most likely make great gains, but not meet grade level (which by the way is determined by politicians, not educators) and would take a cut in pay or possibly be fired. You tell me if that makes any sense.

  • Chris

    Perhaps Rep. Petersen should move to Wisconsin

  • Linda LeBoutillier

    I agree, it’s the job of administrators to do formal and informal observations of teachers. Rather than holding the teachers accountable for that, why not hold the administrators accountable? As for using test scores to see who is a good teacher, what you will be doing is guaranteeing that teachers “teach to the test,” as if what is on the test is the be-all and end-all of life in school. That makes these tests out to be way more important than they really are. if the public knew how these tests are created and scored by FOR PROFIT companies, they would be shocked and appalled. And if they knew how much money schools are forced to pay for the privilege of giving one of these tests (that they HAVE TO give, because of the No Child Left Behind law), they would also be shocked. This is not about schools or education. This is about money, BIG money. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the testing companies have lobbyists who wine and dine some of our MN legislators as a matter of course to make sure they vote for more testing! And what do I know about it? I’m a teacher!

  • Pork Chop Guy

    Ok, no one likes the test from the comments above, then what do you suggest?
    Are you all implying no teacher should ever be held accountable (fired)? Help me understand what would be a good solution?

    • JT

      Teachers should be held accountable in an equitable and fair manner. Much like businesses evaluate their employees–based on skill, performance, attendance, goal setting for students and self and meeting those goals, knowledge base, relationships with co-workers and students, contribution to the district, etc. etc. I don’t think parents truly want teachers that teach to one standardized test all year long. Plus their jobs are on the line if their child does not pass it. Wow! Teachers are already held accountable through No Child Left Behind and must teach to that test. This is just another step in the wrong direction.

      I posted a similar response before, but it did not appear. I apologize if it appears twice.

    • JT

      Teachers should be held accountable in a fair and equitable manner. Just as employees in a business are held accountable for their jobs based on skill base, attendance, improvement shown, skills acquired, relationships with students and co-workers, planning, goal setting, and achieving goals. Basing 50 percent of someone’s evaluation on one test taken at one moment in time–wow–that just does not make any sense. Teachers are already being forced to teach to standardized tests due to No Child Left Behind. Do you really want your children going to school every day being taught to one standardized test, and now having the educator in the classroom’s job be based on whether your child passes or fails one test?

  • helga

    So, if Joe is suddenly going through depression, lost his home in a fire, has no where to sleep, hasn’t had a decent meal in days and is now the subject of abuse from a family member due to the situation beyond his control… we base a teacher’s pay and/or job on the line because Joe can’t pass the test?!

    These politicians need to wake up! Life happens and it affects us all. I went through a terrible time at one point in my life while in college and failed several classes and exams during that trials time. Would I blame my professors for what I was dealing with? No! My mistakes were MY problems and I had to deal with life first before I could deal with school. I had a 4.0 gpa going before the life events screwed up my hard work.

    How many of those kids come from abused homes, broken homes, homeless, and the list goes on. Politicians need to take in to account what ELSE is happening behind those test scores. Don’t be too quick to point fingers until you look down and see how many fingers are pointing back at you.

  • PO

    Instead of testing young people who are still learning, let’s test our politicians who should have learned something through their own education. This whole idea is uninformed, unbelievably simplistic, and uneducated.

  • Care about students-

    Why aren’t the lawmakers working on the budget instead of telling us how to run the schools? Leave the concerns about the schools to someone who knows something about them like the teachers and administration. I taught school for 35 years–retired and am now on the school board. Tests are only one part of teaching. The administration evaluated me annually.The teachers and administration are still doing a great job in our school. Are the lawmakers doing their job? Suggestion for the lawmakers– throw “No Child Left Behind’ in the Mississippi River and get back to work on the budget.

  • David Loch

    Ok, You can tell by the students the teacher is leaving behind weather he or she is doing their job. I don’t care who the student is they will make some progress. If teachers focus on the positive of students and I know they do when it comes to disabled or special ED students. It’s not the disability but the “Ability” of every student,

  • Randy from MN

    Help me understand Tenure. Why should a teacher be guaranteed a position when they are an obvious detriment to my childs learning experience? I know many teachers out there will agree that every school has it’s share of poor teachers. If this was a private enterprise they would be replaced with a better applicant. No one should be guaranteed a job especially if they are a public employee paid by our tax dollars.

  • http://slyden.wordpress.com/2011/04/26/k-12-legislation-could-pressure-minnesota-teachers/ K-12 Legislation Could Pressure Minnesota Teachers « slyden

    […] proposed legislation Star Tribune: Ratings could end tenure for Minnesota’s teachers CBS Minnesota: Minn. Lawmaker’s Proposal Puts Teachers To The Test LikeBe the first to like this […]

  • Denise

    I appreciate that many of the commenters here do a good job articulating the problem with assessing teachers based on student scores. I see far too many instances of educators making their point really poorly. Instead of sounding rational, they come across as whiners, defenders of the status quo, and unwilling to admit that there are in fact some poor teachers out there. Here, several commenters made the point, very eloquently, that given one set of students a mediocre or poor teacher can look pretty good, and given a different set of students, a great teacher can look mediocre or even poor.

    I wish the overall political/media discussion could be clearer and more rational, with serious looks at what statistical instruments and measurements are actually being proposed for judging the effect of a given teacher. Seldom is it made clear to the public whether a politician’s proposal involves looking at, for example, the results of a single test, or the results of an individual teacher’s students over several years, or the longitudinal progress of individual students over several years, etc. And almost never do reporters ask statisticians whether these measures are valid! The public deserves to know this, in order to make informed decisions!

    My understanding is that measures of longitudinal progress are most useful. For example, let’s say the average student at a certain school improves at a given rate each year, but in each cohort of students, the average rate of improvement bumped up a notch if taught by Teacher X. Kids in the class of 2017 who were taught by Teacher X back in 2nd grade improved more that year than they did other years. Kids in the class of 2018 who were taught by Teacher X back in 2nd grade also improved more that year than they did in other years. And wouldn’t you know it, kids in the class of 2019 who were taught by Teacher X back in 2nd grade also improved more that year than they did in other years. By comparing students to themselves over several years, you avoid comparing rich vs poor or gifted kids vs slow learners. And by looking at several cohorts of kids (class of 2017, class of 2018, class of 2019), you know whether it’s just a fluke or whether this teacher does seem to have a persistent effect, year after year.

    I’m certain that this isn’t a perfect measure for many reasons, and improvement in some subjects and skills is easier to measure than improvement in others. That said, at some point we need to accept that there will never be a perfect way to measure teacher or student performance and learning, or to perfectly correlate these things with future career success. Perfect should not be the enemy of good: schools should have adequate tools to measure the contributions and performance of their employees, yet have the flexibility that other industries have to improve the services they provide by providing targeted training and making necessary changes in their workforce.

    I’m not sure why this is near-universally percieved as dangerous by teachers. People in other professions change companies all the time, yes sometimes unwillingly, but often because they themselves no longer feel their current company is a good fit or because they simply yearn for a change of pace. In other industries, this is generally accepted as healthy. Sometimes a person who is a poor fit for one company is a great fit at another.

    Perhaps this knee-jerk objection is a result of the pay structure in education. When people in other professions change companies they rarely start over from square one. In education however, pay grids “trap” teachers in school districts: an experienced teacher who wants to move to a different town or is simply contemplating a new challenge knows he will suffer a pay cut and lose every advantage of seniority if he moves to a new district. It shouldn’t be hard to imagine that teachers who feel “trapped” in their current districts aren’t going to be as dynamic as those who are happy to be there.

    I think it’s time to end the rhetoric and stop drawing lines in the sand. Parents want better schools, teachers want better schools, the public wants better schools. Why can’t we put our heads together to come up with some valid measurements that help us tease out the effect of individual teachers on student performance? Why can’t we change systems to allow teachers more flexibility in their careers? I think we’ll find that most of the time problems are not the fault of individual teachers, but occasionally some targeted training or a different teacher will be the right solution. The worst thing that could happen is we’ll have better education.

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