Legislation ties jobs of teachers to test scores

Legislation ties jobs of teachers to test scores

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The Wisconsin state Assembly passed a bill Friday that would allow student test scores to be used as a reason to fire a teacher.

Under current law, standardized test data can be one of several factors used to evaluate a teacher's performance, but it can't be used to discipline them.

The bill the Republican-controlled Assembly passed on a 54-38 vote early Friday would allow the scores to be used as one of multiple reasons to discipline or fire a teacher. Test scores alone could not be used to discipline a teacher.

The measure passed the Republican-controlled Senate last week on a partisan vote.

Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, said the bill - which has the support of the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators, the Association of Wisconsin School Administrators and several other education groups - will allow districts to ensure that the best and brightest teachers are where they are most needed.

The state's standardized test, known as the Wisconsin Knowledge and Concepts Exam, provides a statistical snapshot of how far students have progressed since they were last evaluated, he said. So districts should be able to accurately gauge how much value a teacher adds to a particular program and reward them appropriately.

"It's not that teachers who have the best and brightest kids who want to learn are always going to be at the top," Olsen said. "It's about where the kids started and where they got to by the time that teacher was done with them."

Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, voted against the bill.

"What it basically says is school boards only need to consider one more thing in addition to the test scores and they could fired you," Clark said. "So if the students in October that you've had for six weeks were below average and you made some copies late at night when you weren't supposed to, you can be fired."

Clark worries that the bill - which is expected to be signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker - would create an environment in which school boards could fire a teacher for any reason at all. He said it could make talented teachers reluctant to take jobs in failing districts because of uncertainties about job security.

Clark offered an amendment that would have provided more specifics about how school boards could use the test data to discipline or terminate teachers. But Republicans did not allow a vote on the measure, he said.

Olsen said he does not share Clark's concern that school administrators and boards may abuse the new law as a method to fire teachers for any reason.

"These are professionals," Olsen said. "They want the best teachers in these positions."

In a news release Friday, the Wisconsin Education Association Council said the Department of Public Instruction is working on a new statewide standardized test because the WKCE exams do not provide an accurate snapshot.

"This is another example of the extremes the governor and his followers will go to in order to defund public schools, devalue the professionals who work in them and disrespect all that Wisconsin values," said Mary Bell, a Wisconsin Rapids teacher and president of the Wisconsin Education Association Council. "Parents don't believe these tests are an accurate reflection of what their child knows, so why would it make sense to discipline or fire a teacher based on the results? This shows just how disconnected our state government is to Wisconsin schools."

The bill comes in advance of a state education task force's anticipated release of recommendations related to a framework for teacher evaluation. Clark and Bell have questioned why the bill passed before those recommendations were released.

Olsen said he met with representatives of the task force, who told him they needed the bill to pass before their recommendations could be implemented.

"I don't know what the recommendations are going to be but the bill is going to be broad enough to cover what they want to do," Olsen said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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