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The Non-proficient Teachers Unions

California students are not learning and teacher union leaders blame tests.

Every two years selected students across the nation take the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a test known as the nation’s report card. This year our kids didn’t do well. Actually they never do well, but this year the scores were even worse than two years ago. Just 36 percent of fourth graders are proficient in reading, and 33 percent of eighth graders are proficient in math.

Some blame the new Common Core curriculum for the downturn – and there may be something to this – but even if you add a few sympathy points to the scores, they still stink. And when national news stories started rolling out about our poorly educated students, like night follows day, teacher union honchos put on their Sunday-best spin outfits and trotted out damage control sound bites. American Federation of Teachers president Randi Weingarten stated “slipping NAEP scores are evidence that the nation’s focus on using standardized tests to judge teachers and schools has failed….”

Sure. Let’s see – teachers teach kids. Kids do poorly on tests that are based on what teachers teach. And that’s proof that teachers shouldn’t be judged by how poorly their kids do on tests that measure what they are teaching. Okaaaaaayyyy.

National Education Association president Lily Eskelsen García, also playing defense offered, “The recent release of the NAEP scores once again demonstrates what educators have said all along. The effectiveness of a system cannot be judged by a single test score.” (Trust me, if the scores were good, there’d be none of this “single test score” blather.)

Here in California, our NAEP scores are in the toilet. Average fourth-grade math scores place the state at the bottom of the nation, just one point on above New Mexico, Alabama and Washington, D.C. In fourth-grade reading, only New Mexico and Washington, D.C. fared worse than the Golden State.

For those who think a “single test score” is meaningless, let’s look at another metric. The Early Assessment Program is a collaborative effort of the State Board of Education, California Department of Education and California State University, and measures readiness in college-level English and math for all high school juniors. The 2014 assessment showed that one-half of all students in the state did not demonstrate college readiness in math. In English, more than six out of ten didn’t. And of course some districts don’t live up to the average. In Los Angeles, 70 percent of the juniors are not college ready in English and 64 percent are not ready in math. In Fresno, it’s even worse: more than three out of four do not demonstrate readiness in reading and two out of three in math. (While the tests are given in grade 11, not many appreciably improve in grade 12.)

Last week – one week after the NAEP scores were released – the National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ) released a report which reveals that 42 states and the District of Columbia require student growth and achievement be a consideration in teacher evaluations. (Just six years ago only 15 states did so.) Regrettably, California is one of the eight that does not, despite the fact that it has been the law (the Stull Act) to do so since 1971. In 1999, the state legislature amended the ghost law, requiring that the governing board of each school district “shall evaluate and assess certificated employee performance as it reasonably relates to: the progress of pupils toward the standards established pursuant to subdivision (a) and, if applicable, the state adopted academic content standards as measured by state adopted criterion referenced assessments.” In other words, a teacher’s evaluation must be based at least in part on how well her students perform on state tests. But school districts still turned a blind eye to the law.

Then in 2012, per a suit brought by Sacramento-based nonprofit EdVoice, a judge ordered the inclusion of test scores to be part of a teacher’s evaluation. However, in a report released earlier this year that sampled 26 districts’ compliance with the decision, EdVoice found that half of them were ignoring that court-ordered requirement to use the test scores. (Yet another lawsuit has been filed against the 13 districts not following the law.) And until districts start to live up to the law, California will continue to flail away, having no objective method of measuring teacher effectiveness and therefore no accountability.

Pointing to the importance of evaluating teachers on student performance, Sandi Jacobs, NCTQ Senior Vice-President of state and district policy, put it very succinctly. “The bottom line of teaching is whether or not students are learning. If you stand up in front of a classroom every day and deliver great lesson after great lesson but no one in the class is gaining anything, then something is off.”

AFT’s Weingarten, pulling the misdirect string, retorted, “Rather than test-and-punish systems, we need teacher evaluations that will help support and improve teaching and learning.” Of course teachers need support, and it’s important to note that no state relies solely on student test scores, but rather uses test results along with a variety of other metrics to assess a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom.

So as most of the country moves on, California wallows in low test scores and unaccountable teachers. And then there is Fresno, the city in the Central Valley where a great majority of kids are way behind in reading and math. The Fresno Teachers Association has refused a 7 percent salary increase and is threatening to strike. This past Friday, the union issued a statement suggesting that the school districts refusal to continue negotiations “indicates students and educators in this district are not the priority.”

I am speechless.

Larry Sand, a former classroom teacher, is the president of the non-profit California Teachers Empowerment Network – a non-partisan, non-political group dedicated to providing teachers and the general public with reliable and balanced information about professional affiliations and positions on educational issues. The views presented here are strictly his own.