Connecticut’s Performance Evaluation Advisory Council (PEAC) today acted on teachers’ concerns regarding the use of mastery examination scores in their evaluations. PEAC unanimously agreed recommending to the State Board of Education to continue the practice of not requiring mastery exam scores in teachers’ evaluations for the next academic year.
PEAC plans to continue to work on determining the appropriate use of mastery test scores and examining the current “matrix” used to evaluate teachers.
“There was a clear shift,” said CEA Executive Director Mark Waxenberg, who serves on the advisory council, along with CEA President Sheila Cohen. “All PEAC members understand that we are doing good things now, and we do not want to dampen the good work being done in classrooms across Connecticut.”
Currently state test data is used to give a 10,000-foot view and provide a window into the needs of a district, school, or classroom, Waxenberg said.
“It gives teachers flexibility, encourages them to take creative risks, and nurtures a collaborative culture within schools. We’re seeing a focus on learning and group discussions among teachers, as well as more collaboration between teachers and administrators, and it’s important to keep everybody working together and all oars in the water.”
The council unanimously agreed.
Waxenberg also cautioned that a fixation on using test data to evaluate educators without understanding why students scored well or poorly would inhibit teacher creativity and risk-taking.
Adding mastery exam scores to teacher evaluations, PEAC members concurred, could result in a “compliance mentality” and a loss of trust. Members overwhelmingly preferred local assessments, teacher observations, and other means of determining the need for professional development, instructional modifications, or stronger adherence to curriculum.
Regarding the use of mastery exam scores in teacher evaluations, PEAC member Karissa Niehoff cautioned, “It would be dangerous for us to require something we haven’t defined.” Niehoff is executive director of Connecticut Association of Schools.
“Based on what teachers are telling me,” Waxenberg added, “I’m asserting that if we put this score in teacher evaluations, we will make it harder to recruit and retain teachers. Right now, the state mastery test data is being used for dialogue. When you turn that switch, you change the dialogue. You throw cold water on the good work that is happening now, and what we lose is the very real possibility of collaboration, creativity, and risk-taking that we want to encourage among teachers. I worry about people just focusing on that number and getting that number up, when it’s not about moving the needle on the test score.
“The purpose of the state mastery exam should be to gather student data to inform local and state policymakers in making programmatic and curricular decisions in advancing student growth and achievement,” Waxenberg continued. “But how we appropriately use the data is a complex question,” he said, “and we need to continue to dialog and do a deeper dive over the next academic year.”
Until the council is able to articulate appropriate uses of the state mastery test, PEAC has recommended the continued practice of not requiring mastery exam scores in teacher evaluation. The group plans to schedule a workshop in January with the State Board of Education to explain its plan and rationale and discuss next steps.
It’s significant that PEAC’s recommendation is unanimous, for 2 reasons: First, it appears that the leadership shown by CEA last year in striving to work with PEAC members to have deeper discussions about the issues has been successful, which, in turn has brought a more clear understanding of the negative impact brought about by including mastery test scores in teacher evaluation; and second, a unanimous decision will, hopefully, have a greater impact on the way the State Board of Education discusses and reviews the recommendation. Seeing that a wide range of practitioners has worked hard to come to a deeper, mutual understanding of this issue will, hopefully, lead the SBE to have greater trust in what experienced professionals recommend, and the SBE will adopt the recommendation. Thanks to CEA for taking a strong leadership role!