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Don’t blame the Common Core standards, how we measure performance is the problem

Tying teacher evaluations to student test scores is bad educational policy

Photo of Jayne Ellspermann

Core Debate

Dear Carol,

Your recent letter identified the drawbacks of tying teacher evaluations to student performance on the Common Core-aligned tests. In order to receive Race to the Top funds, states agreed to tie student test results to teacher evaluations. An outcry from teachers and school administrators followed. You wrote in your last letter that the New York State legislature recently passed a bill that increased the impact of student test scores on teacher evaluations to 50%. The Florida legislature just passed a bill reducing the weight of test scores on teacher and administrator evaluations from 50% to 37%. Reducing the weight of test scores is a step in the right direction, but I agree with you that tying the two together is not good educational policy.

Related: Do the arts go hand in hand with Common Core?

Everyone needs feedback to improve his or her performance. But when teacher and administrator evaluations are tied to student performance based on one test, it overlooks the complexity of the individual students. You and I have discussed how each student comes in to a teacher’s classroom with different life experiences and different abilities. The expectation that each teacher can be fairly evaluated on a single test without regard to the different traits of each student is like asking someone to bake a cake with only one ingredient. Nothing good will result no matter what ingredient is used. There have to be multiple measures used to give teachers and administrators feedback on performance.

Carol, readers will find more that unites us than divides us in this exchange. While I maintain there is value in tests that align to college and career ready standards, those tests can only be designed to test a particular set of cognitive skills. They do not test the totality of each student’s development, learning or ability. We want our students to find their voice, communicate effectively, and collaborate toward a common goal. We want them to be self-directed and own their learning. We want them to discover creative solutions to problems. No single metric can capture all of these complex elements. An over reliance on one metric offers an incomplete view of student and school performance. When states were adopting new teacher (and principal) evaluation programs, the National Association of Secondary School Principals advocated for multiple measures of performance. Performance—and accountability, by extension—should be a complete dashboard of metrics, not a single gauge.

Related: Principal: I’m retiring because Common Core puts test scores before children

In your last letter you stated that you refuse to work in “a system that puts test scores before the interests of the whole child.” I believe the challenges have been due to a systemic failure to implement the standards with fidelity, and using the assessments for measures other than for what they were designed. You have personified the standards and made them a target of blame. Standards alone can’t make teachers leave the teaching profession or generate inequities. The problem is not the standards, but how they’ve been adopted and used.

I still believe that the Common Core and college and career ready standards provide us with the best model for how our system of education can fulfill its promise to all students. If we focus on what we want our students to be able to do when they graduate from high school and continue their education or enter the workforce we have to adjust what we are doing in our classrooms. I am at the Florida Association of School Administrators summer conference this week and one of our featured speakers is John Couch, Vice President of Education at Apple. He said that if our students can answer a question using Google, then we are not asking the right questions.

With Common Core, teachers are asking the right questions and students are adjusting to the rigorous standards.

You wrote, “We should not destroy our schools to create a bell curve of accountability performance, which is created when we compare teachers to each other using student test score growth.” Where is this bell curve you are referencing? I do not see anything in our accountability measures or the Common Core that compares teachers to each other using a bell curve. Instead I see student growth and performance being used to give teachers feedback. The assessments were not designed to be used for teacher evaluations. They are designed to assess whether students are learning the standards.

In your last letter you referenced the contradiction we place in our schools when we expect teachers to collaborate, yet put a price on student achievement in “pay for performance.” However, with the right school culture teachers will still collaborate so that all students improve, which reflects positively on the teachers and encourages continued collaboration.

Related: For teachers of English learners, Common Core means double the work

While you maintain a strong conviction that the Common Core is at the root of the problems we are facing in education, I still believe that the Common Core is a positive shift for our schools and our students. It has given us a set of common expectations and created an active dialogue about education and the work we are doing in our schools. In my 35 years in education, there has never been a movement that has sparked this much conversation about standards.

Our students in Florida who started their education with the Common Core and transitioned to the Florida Standards will be entering the fourth grade next year. These students will be graduating from high school in 2024. The vision that began this journey of the Common Core was that we would redesign our schools to meet the needs of these students when they graduate from high school so they would be college and career ready. Franklin D. Roosevelt said, “We cannot always build the future for our youth, but we can build our youth for the future.” I believe that the Common Core will help build our students for the future.

I want to congratulate you on your upcoming retirement and wish you all the best. Leaving a profession you love and are passionate about is very difficult. I look forward to your parting thoughts in your next letter.

 

Jayne

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Jayne Ellspermann

Jayne Ellspermann is principal of West Port High School in Ocala, Florida and was named National Principal of the Year by the National Association of… See Archive

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