Hillary Rodham Clinton said she is opposed to using student test scores as a way to judge a teacher’s performance, dismissing a key feature of education policies promoted by the Obama administration.
Clinton, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, made the remarks during a closed-door meeting with 25 teachers and paraprofessionals that was organized by the American Federation of Teachers on Nov. 9 in New Hampshire.
Liz Lynch, a teacher from North Bergen, N.J., told Clinton that she was in favor of teachers being held accountable but that in recent years, overtesting has consumed her school.
“Students have been made to take paper and pencil tests in PE and music just so they can be evaluated,” Lynch said, according to a transcript released by AFT on Monday. “Teachers spend an inordinate amount of time giving benchmark tests to prepare for more tests. And all the testing is crowding out time my students and I used to spend on cooperative learning, critical thinking and project-based learning.”
“What can we do to move away from all this testing and return the joy of learning and teaching to the classroom?” Lynch asked Clinton. “And how would you ensure that federal money for education is not tied to test results?”
According to the transcript, Clinton responded, “I believe in diagnostic testing that teachers can use to try to figure out how to help individuals and classes deal with their learning challenges. I do believe that there can be and should be a set of tests that everybody agrees on.”
“And I have for a very long time also been against the idea that you tie teacher evaluation and even teacher pay to test outcomes,” she said. “There’s no evidence. There’s no evidence. Now, there is some evidence that it can help with school performance. If everybody is on the same team, and they’re all working together, that’s a different issue, but that’s not the way it’s been presented…”
In the last few years, nearly every state has implemented systems to evaluate teachers based in part on student test scores, largely because the Obama administration made it a condition for states to receive either a grant under Race to the Top or a waiver from the federal No Child Left Behind law.
But the practice has come under growing scrutiny. Last week, the American Educational Research Association became the latest organization to caution against using value-added models — complex algorithms that try to measure a teacher’s impact on student test scores — to judge the performance of teachers. It joined the National Research Council, the American Statistical Association and the Rand Corporation, which have all said that schools should not use these models to make important decisions about a teacher’s pay or employment status.
Teachers unions gave tacit approval to the idea of using test scores as part of teacher evaluations in the early days of the Obama administration when Race to the Top was created.
But the country’s two major teachers unions both sharply rebelled against the method as it took root across the country. Both the AFT and the National Education Association have endorsed Clinton for president, and the candidate has told both unions that she wants to work closely with them to craft education policy.
“I want us to do a deep dive into the collective experience of educators and the research so that instead of these back-and-forths that you see now, particularly from the other candidates on the Republican side, it’s not rooted in real-world experience,” Clinton told the AFT members last week. “It is not rooted in the advice from people who actually stand in front of a classroom and know the names of their students.”
The problems in public education stem from underresourcing, Clinton said. “We have too many poor kids attending, too many poor kids without the resources they need, without the support they should get, and that’s the real tragedy in education, and it’s not test scores.”
Clinton also said that public charter schools “should be supplementary, not a substitute” for traditional public schools. Charter schools were originally conceived by Albert Shanker, AFT president from 1974 to 1997, as laboratories for innovation that could then be imported into traditional public schools.
Today, many advocates see public charter schools, which are funded by taxpayers but privately run and often non-unionized, as an alternative to traditional public schools.
Clinton was slammed in the past week by charter school advocates for comments she made at a Nov. 7 town hall in South Carolina, in which she said “most” charters intentionally exclude or expel children who are difficult to educate.
Clinton has supported charter schools during her three decades in public service. She she told AFT that “there’s no doubt in my mind that charters have to be held accountable. There are good charters, and there are bad charters.”