WASHINGTON – An updated No Child Left Behind law should track the progress of teachers as well as students, a special commission said Tuesday.
The private commission said schools should be required to measure how well teachers are doing at raising student test scores — one of 75 recommendations in a report meant to guide Congress as it prepares to rewrite the 5-year-old law this year. The idea came under immediate attack from the nation's largest teachers union.
Teachers should be evaluated annually based on progress in the test scores of their students, the panel said. Reviews by colleagues or school principals also would be part of the equation for determining teacher quality.
If a teacher has trouble showing student progress or getting good reviews after two years, that teacher would begin to get professional development. If that doesn't lead to a turnaround, then after seven years the teacher would be prevented from teaching in a school that receives federal poverty aid.
The current law, which requires testing in reading and math in grades three through eight and once in high school, does not measure the effectiveness of individual teachers. It does require teachers to be certified, have a bachelor's degree and knowledge of their subjects.
"We believe that teachers should have the opportunity to demonstrate their effectiveness in the classroom," former Georgia Democratic Gov. Roy Barnes said at a news conference. He and Republican Tommy Thompson, a former governor of Wisconsin, led the commission set up by the Aspen Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
But Joel Packer, a lobbyist for the National Education Association, the largest teachers' union, called the idea ill-conceived.
He said it would further encourage teachers to "teach to a test," a common complaint levied against the law, rather that ensuring students receive a deep understanding of the subjects taught.
Schools currently must meet yearly progress goals under No Child Left Behind. If schools miss those marks, they can be labeled as needing improvement and may face consequences.
However, the report calls the current system of measuring progress "a fairly blunt instrument" and recommended giving schools credit for making strides, even if they fall short of a specific goal.
The report also recommends closing a loophole under the law that has allowed states to set aside the scores of specific groups of students.
States have a lot of flexibility in determining how large those set-asides should be, and an Associated Press review last year found that nearly 2 million students were not being counted when schools reported yearly progress by racial groups.
The commission also is calling for changes in the way some special education students are assessed. Currently about 10 percent of students are given alternate tests and measured against benchmarks that are different from those used to assess general education students.
The report recommends allowing an additional 10 percent of special education students to also be judged against different benchmarks.
The commission's report also said:
— Schools should be judged by how well students do on science tests, as well as math and reading exams.
— A new test should be given in high school to assess students' readiness to do college-level work or enter the job market.
— The federal government should create national standards and national tests and create an incentive for states to use those.
The commission members were joined at the news conference by key lawmakers, including Massachusetts Democrat Edward Kennedy, who chairs the Senate committee expected to rewrite the education law.
"Many of their recommendations are going to see life," Kennedy said of the commission.