The Arizona Legislature has once again asserted control over local schools — this time with a new law to dictate how schools evaluate both teachers and principals.
The new rules will link pay raises, layoffs and firings directly to whether a teacher’s students improve their scores on standardized tests, Payson Unified School District Superintendent Casey O’Brien told the school board on Monday.
The new rules say that half of the score in the evaluations of both teachers and principals must rely on student test scores. The other half can rely on things like classroom observations and other traditional measures of whether an educator is doing a good job.
One little problem: The district doesn’t have the test scores to measure the progress of an individual student the new system demands, said O’Brien.
“For perhaps 70 percent of the teachers, we don’t have the data,” said O’Brien.
Currently, state and federal mandates require the schools to test students’ basic knowledge of math, English and writing every couple of years. Some of those tests allow schools to measure the progress of individual students. Those scores largely determine the schools’ overall ranking in both state and federal reports.
However, no standardized tests exist to measure what information art, music, science, social studies and other students should master.
“We just don’t have that kind of data,” said O’Brien.
In fact, many educators complain the obsession with measuring knowledge in basic subjects has warped the curriculum, forced valuable electives out of schools and hobbled creative teachers forced to teach to standardized, high-stakes tests.
“We don’t really have any way right now to meet these guidelines for art, music, special education and social studies,” said O’Brien.
The new standards imposed by the Legislature would supplant all of the traditional ways in which schools determine which teachers are doing a good job, which relies heavily on the school principal observing a teacher’s classroom management.
The new standards would also apply to school principals, relying on things like overall student test scores in core subjects, dropout rates, graduation rates and other broad measures to determine whether those administrators should get raises and promotions.
Some studies show that the average income and education of the parents in a school’s attendance area play the leading role in student achievement and test scores.
The legislative imposition of state standards to evaluate teachers represents only the latest imposition of state control on local schools, school officials said.
Last year, the Legislature did away with the tenure system and eliminated many job protections for teachers and administrators. The Legislature wrote a law that actually forbid districts from considering seniority when resorting to budget-induced layoffs — and even prevented districts from considering seniority and past service when it came time to fill new openings after layoffs.
As a result, Payson schools could not consider seniority in laying off scores of teachers in the past two years — and could not give the laid-off teachers preference when filling new positions, said O’Brien.
Earlier, the Legislature essentially assumed control of the financing of the state’s schools, after a judge ruled unconstitutional a system based on local property taxes, which gave rich districts like Scottsdale far more money to spend on each student than relatively poor districts like Payson.