Education Minn. wants meaningful tests

Published 9:46 am Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Column: Tom Dooher, Guest Column

Education Minnesota fully agrees with the Albert Lea Tribune when it comes to testing and teaching in Minnesota schools (Editorial: Schools don’t teach students, Sept. 15, 2011). Here in Minnesota we are heading in a positive direction on that issue.

Tom Dooher

One of the most important and positive things that happened during the recently concluded special session may turn out to be something that hasn’t yet received big headlines: Minnesota will now require annual evaluations of all public school teachers.

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By their very nature, teachers, whose life work is built around daily judgments of their students’ progress, want fair and honest feedback about their own abilities.

In January, Education Minnesota reaffirmed our support for meaningful, annual assessments of teachers. Throughout the regular legislative session, we favored a bill authored by Rep. Kathy Brynaert, DFL-Mankato, and that bill is the foundation of Minnesota’s new teacher evaluation law.

The law will require reviews by trained evaluators, including school administrators and experienced teachers already in the districts. Those reviews would take a wide variety of factors into account, including multiple measurements of student learning.

The new teacher development and evaluation law is not perfect. It mandates that 35 percent of a teacher’s evaluation be tied to student growth as measured by tests. That is an arbitrary figure, and we disagree with using it; research into the issue strongly warns that student test scores are not a reliable indicator of teacher effectiveness.

But rather than issue a rigid mandate, the new Minnesota law allows local communities, their educators and school administrators to determine what tests to use. This is a big step in the right direction, and it’s a welcome step away from proposals that would have directly linked a much larger part of teacher evaluations primarily to scores on standardized tests.

Albert Einstein said it best when he said “not everything that can be counted, counts. And not everything that counts can be counted.”

When considered in isolation, scores on a standardized test are some of the most irrelevant data teachers use to judge a student’s progress. Test scores are among many mileposts on the journey to a good education, not ends unto themselves. All parents know test scores are not a complete measure of their child’s abilities. And they certainly should not be the primary way to evaluate teachers or their students.

If this new measure is implemented thoughtfully, it will support the many great teachers already in Minnesota classrooms. It will do so by stressing what really matters in a well-rounded education, and give teachers the training and tools vital to help them improve as educators. Those few teachers who don’t make the grade will be given the opportunity to get better, and those who can’t or don’t will be removed from the classroom.

It’s critical to keep this issue in perspective. Parents and educators agree that the vast majority of Minnesota teachers do a tremendous job. Our best-in-the-nation ACT scores and third-in-the-nation graduation rates are among the many elements that prove it.

For the most part, the teacher evaluation portion of the new education law concentrates our efforts on making a good thing better, and spreading the excellence found in our public schools to every student in the state.

Tom Dooher is the president of Education Minnesota.