Aug 8, 2007

Bethel teachers versus the WASL

WASL scores appear to be a major sticking point in the Bethel EA's negotiations this summer, which have entered mediation after threats of a strike August 30.

Using standardized test scores has its share of problems. Using WASL scores, though, presents a whole new set.
[Superintendent Tom] Seigel said Washington Assessment of Student Learning results or other test scores would be just one of many evaluation criteria and would apply only to instructors who teach subject matter on the exam.

"Teachers obviously have a major impact on WASL scores," Seigel said. "To suggest you can’t use WASL scores somehow to suggest a teacher is doing a good job or areas they need to improve is like taking tests from a doctor and ignoring the results."
No wonder teachers are upset. To adopt Seigel's metaphor, using the WASL to evaluate one teacher is like waiting to take your temperature until the fever's gone down.

I'll focus on the sophomore year, because that's when the biggest problems arise. First, Bethel's proposed scheme places an unfair burden on English, math, and science teachers. History, P.E., art, and every other subject get a pass--at least, until they get their own WASL.

Second, since students aren't pre-tested on an equivalent test, instead taking an easier test three years before, there's no way to guarantee a fair benchmark. Are teachers evaluated based on how many students pass? Great. Then how much credit should two thirds of sophomore year's instruction count, versus the 8th and 9th grade years?

Are teachers evaluated based on improvement? Great. If Johnny fails in 7th grade, and fails again in 10th, whose fault is it? If Jewel fails in 7th grade, and passes in 10th, who gets the praise? There are too many intervening variables to be sorted out with just two snapshots.

These aren't just whiny teacher complaints; these are real statistical quandaries, which I doubt Seigel and other district officers truly appreciate. If I were teaching in Bethel, I'd walk out, too, if the district refused to back way from a poorly conceived scheme.


Dr Pezz said...

I still think of the difference between teaching special ed. class and an honors class. A student could rise from a 6th grade level to a 9th grade level in a special ed. class and not pass the test. The teacher could've done a phenomenal job, but all anyone sees is the state test score.

On the other hand, the honors kids will generally pass regardless of the level of instruction in the honors class. I teach honors classes and know those kids can pass the state test without my help, so we focus primarily on other in-depth analyses. If state tests are part of the evaluation, I could look great without having done much.

Ryan said...

I think that this should point us, as a system, towards using more sophisticated measures of student achievement like the NWEA, or locally designed measurements.

It's also interesting to me as someone going into an open contract year to see stories like this; I wonder if Bethel is alone in this situation, or will we see more administrative pressure like this during other negotiations?

Dr Pezz said...

We also need to remember that relying on state test scores, in my opinion, is the recourse of the lazy. No real study or evaluation of the individual is needed. The evaluator simply looks at a number and records how it corresponds to some chart to determine an evaluation.

I believe this is also why many people love state testing. One number to look at, no work needed, no real scrutinizing. It's the back door to an attempt to privatize education.