Dear Board Member,
As the parent of a North Carolina ninth grader, I ask you to support the removal of Standard 6 from state teacher evaluations, as will be recommended by NCDPI at the February 4 state board meeting. As you know, Standard 6 requires every teacher in the state to demonstrate “acceptable, measurable progress for students based on established performance expectations using appropriate data to demonstrate growth.”
Like all parents, I want my son to have the highest quality education possible. It is clear to me that Standard 6 has done more harm than good in that regard. The need to gather “appropriate data” for every teacher has spawned a plethora of high-stakes, multiple-choice tests, which have skewed his classes away from some of the most important components of a twenty-first century education – most notably writing.
I am appalled by how little writing my son has been expected to do in courses such as English and history. But I also understand why. The North Carolina Final Exams currently determine a significant part of both his class grades and his teachers’ official state evaluations. They do not involve writing, and they never will, because grading a statewide exam that requires students to write is simply too expensive. As a result, his teachers have focused on content memorization and on the quite limited range of skills that can be measured by a standardized exam.
This approach is not preparing him for college or a career. I am a professional historian and my husband is a college professor. Weak writing skills are probably the biggest problem that college professors currently identify in undergraduates. This problem has grown worse as the number of high-stakes standardized tests has multiplied.
I have also seen other negative effects of this testing expansion, including a limited focus on close reading of texts that has led my son to conclude that reading is a boring and unpleasant task (and in some ways it is hard to blame him). He read avidly for pleasure when he was younger, and now he only reads when forced to.
As you know, North Carolina was pressured into creating Standard 6 by the U.S. Department of Education, even though there was no evidence that evaluating teachers by their students’ test scores was an effective or reliable measure of teacher quality. Many years later, no state has developed an effective or reliable system, and none is likely to do so. Now that the recent passage of ESSA has returned power over teacher evaluation to the states, it is time to end this unfortunate experiment.
In future, I think that NCDPI should look at eliminating the North Carolina Final Exams altogether, particularly for those classes, such as history, for which it is not possible to develop a cost-effective exam that genuinely measures core skills. But removing Standard 6 would dramatically reduce the limiting effect these exams are having on teaching and learning across the state. It is an important step. On behalf of my son, and all his fellow North Carolina students, I urge you to take it.
Charlotte, North Carolina
P.S. More details on the problems created by the use of value-added measurement in high-stakes teacher evaluations can be found here. I would be happy to talk more about this issue and our family’s experience. Just let me know.