Legislation would (mostly) free teachers from test results

Some Georgia lawmakers want to take an eraser to high-stakes tests.

State law calls for student test results to inform at least half of each teacher’s job review, but new legislation would roll that back to “no more than 10 percent.”

Senate Bill 355, filed Tuesday as the “Student/Teacher Protection Act,” also would reduce or eliminate penalties for schools and students when students are absent on testing day.

The chief co-sponsor, Sen. William T. Ligon, Jr., R-Brunswick, said he’s not sure what would replace test results in teacher job reviews, but said teachers should be consulted on whatever it is.

“A lot of them feel like they’ve been left out of the conversation,” he said.

The proposal came as a surprise to education lobbyists both for and against test-based evaluations.

None of the five top sponsors of the 16-page bill are on the Senate Education and Youth Committee, the natural starting point for such legislation. They did not work with the largest teachers’ advocacy group in the state, even though a rollback on testing is among the Professional Association of Georgia Educators’ top legislative priorities.

“PAGE is eager to review legislation and work with any legislators looking to reform student testing and educator evaluation programs,” Margaret Ciccarelli, the group’s attorney and lobbyist, said of the bill. She said a reduction in the relevance of test results for teachers’ job evaluations has bipartisan support, though no bipartisan testing bill has emerged so far in this session.

State Superintendent Richard Woods, a Republican, testified last month that he believes the weight of tests in teacher evaluations should be reduced, though he didn’t say by how much.

Ligon said the 2013 state law requiring that “at least 50 percent” of each teacher’s evaluation be based on his or her students’ test results has been unpopular. “I think there’s a consensus that where we’re at is too high,” he said.