Nevada must keep test scores in the mix when evaluating teachers

CARSON CITY — What is education for?

The answer is critical to deciding how much weight student test scores should hold when evaluating teachers.

At least two bills brought by Democrats and now pending at the Legislature ould eliminate the role of statewide standardized test scores in evaluating teachers.

Assembly Bill 212, by Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo, D-Las Vegas, would prohibit statewide test scores from being used as part of a teacher’s grade. Fellow Las Vegas Democrat and Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson’s Assembly Bill 320 would eliminate state test scores as a criterion, but replace them with local achievement results.

A parade of teachers testified before the Assembly Education Committee Monday in favor of ditching test scores.

Myriad factors outside the control of teachers — including home life, parent involvement, poverty and hunger — contribute to poor test performance, they said. Some teachers judged by test scores teach subjects not examined by state tests; how does one evaluate a Spanish teacher by student scores on reading or math tests? What about a school librarian?

Some object to the accuracy of standardized tests, or their ability to measure actual student progress. They worry that the greater the weight on tests, the greater the temptation to impart test-taking skills rather than real knowledge.

“We are absolutely not running from accountability,” said John Vellardita, executive director of the Clark County Education Association. “If they [teachers] don’t want to be held accountable, maybe this isn’t their line of work.”

Vellardita’s union favors Frierson’s bill, and opposed the original version of Fumo’s proposal. Vellardita says local achievement results are more accurate, and more in line with individual student growth and goals.

“Evaluations of an educator should be primarily [about] what they’re in control of,” he said. “We want a fair and good education system that’s relevant to student outcomes.”

The teachers raise valid points, objections that need to be addressed.

But again, what is the purpose of education?

It’s not a jobs program for teachers, which may come as a surprise to the educator who objected in Monday testimony to her professional future being in the hands of a bunch of teenagers.

That’s teenagers as in students.

The purpose of education is the development of young minds to master skills such as reading, writing and mathematics. It’s also a means to foster enlightenment and critical thinking skills. And it’s for the inculcation of the principles of liberal democracy and the American constitutional system, to equip the next generation of tomorrow’s leaders.

Those bothersome teenagers of today will be tomorrow’s CEOs, members of Congress and professionals. And teachers have a critical role in shaping their lives, every bit as important as the soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who guard the nation by force of arms. If the education system fails, the country fails.

That’s one of the reasons we need to pay teachers — especially, good teachers — more than we do now, and ensure schools have every resource they need to succeed.

But we also cannot ignore the fact that, for far too many, the system is foundering. Our dropout rates are too high, our standardized test performance is too low, the number of students who graduate but still need remedial education when they get to college is alarming.

Something is wrong. And test scores are a way to identify the problem and start fixing it. There’s no more direct way of determining whether teachers are fulfilling their basic mission than to use test scores to gauge student progress. Measuring outcomes is something we must do if we’re to invest any credibility in our state’s schools.

For that reason, any attempt to eliminate or mitigate the impact of the statewide standardized test scores on teacher evaluations will likely serve to frustrate, rather than advance the purpose of schools.

And that is not what education is for.

Contact Steve Sebelius at or 702-387-5276. Follow @SteveSebelius on Twitter.

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