Saturday, Feb. 25, 2017 | 2:32 p.m.
Unfair and inhumane.
That’s how teachers described a state law holding them personally responsible for the performance of their students on standardized tests. They had a different reaction to a plan by Democratic Assemblyman Ozzie Fumo to repeal that law, which came in the form of a round of cheers and applause at a Saturday town hall meeting held by the Nevada State Education Association, the state teacher union.
Fumo’s bill is AB212, which would scrap a 2015 teacher evaluation program passed by a Republican legislature. The 2015 law requires as much as 40 percent of a teacher’s performance review to be based on student test results by the 2017-2018 school year.
Hearing teachers tell it, however, the law is inherently flawed. For starters, standardized test results arrive long after the school year actually ends. By the time the teacher gets the results and the bad performance review, the students in question have already moved on to a different grade. Second, most standardized tests focus on English and math, yet the 2015 law applies to all teachers of all subjects, even school librarians and physical education teachers.
Teachers said it is fundamentally unfair to punish them for what happens in student’s personal lives. In schools that post low test scores, the students are often low-income and many are still learning English. Research has conclusively shown that those students perform worse on tests.
“There are many things we can control in our classrooms,” said Ruben Murillo, president of the NSEA. “The one thing we can’t control is what happens in our student’s personal lives.”
Many teachers said they feared linking evaluations to testing would simply create a reverse incentive to teach in at-risk schools, where teachers would simply choose to work in successful, suburban schools to avoid the hassle of receiving a bad performance review.
Others painted a bleak picture of life inside the classrooms of Nevada, one of endless paperwork, overcrowded classes, district administrators over-focused on meeting state mandates and an inherently flawed regime of testing that students don’t even take seriously but that keeps teachers constantly in fear of losing their jobs.
“We’re humans, not robots,” was how one teacher at Silverado High School put it.
Fumo was sympathetic, at one point apologizing “on behalf of the legislature,” adding that “local government has failed you as teachers.” He held up a stack of papers representing the length of the average teacher performance review, then held up a single sheet representing a typical job review in the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police.
“It’s one page and there isn’t even a backside,” Fumo said as teachers sighed and shook their heads.
“You guys are really under the microscope,” he said.
The message at the end of the day was one of action. The NSEA is set to begin a concerted information campaign centered around the bill, which has the support of several Democrats in the state senate, including Joyce Woodhouse and Tick Segerblom.
“We don’t know if we’re going to win” said Chris Daly, NSEA’s deputy director of government affairs. “But we’re going to fight the good fight.”