Virginia considers deemphasizing test scores in teacher evaluations

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Virginia teachers are cheering a proposal to make student test scores less of a consideration when evaluating how effective they are in the classroom.

The proposal, which the Board of Education could approve next month, would let local school boards decide how much test scores factor into annual evaluations as long as it’s at least equal to other standards.

Since 2012, 40 percent of a teacher’s evaluation is based on student test performance, a metric that was put into place in 2012 so the state would have access to certain federal funding streams. That federal policy has since changed.

The other six metrics teacher are judged on — including professional knowledge, professionalism and instructional delivery — are only worth 10 percent of an evaluation.

Teachers with several bad evaluations can be put on improvement plans or dismissed by their school district, according to state guidelines.

State law only requires that student test scores are a “significant” portion of a teacher’s evaluation, state Superintendent James Lane told teachers at a Virginia Education Association conference last weekend.

“There’s still a requirement to keep (that standard),” he told the group. “But it does not have to be 40%. What we know is test scores were not intended to sort students into programs, test scores were not intended to be the sole basis for teacher evaluation.”

Teachers at the conference applauded and some cheered when Lane said the Board would be considering the change. 

Jim Livingston, president of the VEA, said the current evaluation process is “onerous” and likely part of the reason Virginia has a teacher shortage and experienced teachers might avoid low-performing schools.

“That is a significant portion of someone’s performance evaluation based on another individual,” Livingston said. “So if students are not performing well or meeting expectations … then what happens is people shy away from (teaching).”