The Latest Teacher Evaluation Bill and the High Stakes Biology Exam: Potentially a Bad Combination

Should I as a 10th grade biology teacher be attempting to pressure the 9th grade physical science teachers to abandon their studies of physics, chemistry, and earth science, and instead just teach biology so that we all might have higher test scores? Should the 9th grade physical science teachers be evaluated on the scores of a biology end-of-course exam given to students a full year after they have left their class, on a subject they did not even teach?

These questions might seem purely rhetorical, and even a bit ridiculous, but right now the biology end-of-course exam is slated to become high stakes for students next year, and with potential new legislation on teacher evaluation, (SB 5895) high stakes for teachers as well. This combination of assessment and evaluation legislation could easily spell the end of anything but biology in 9th and 10th grade science.

Since the beginning of the new Teacher/Principal Evaluation Pilot (TPEP) in Washington state, student growth data has played a part—the current law states that student growth data, if available and relevant, may be used in the evaluation. Proposed new legislation greatly increases the role that student growth data may play. The proposed bill 5895 states, “Student growth data must be a substantial factor in evaluating the summative performance of certificated classroom teachers for at least three of the evaluation criteria.” Student growth data would include data like the results from the Biology End-of-Course exam.

Not only would growth data be a substantial part of teacher evaluation, but then the results of that teacher evaluation would be used for personnel decisions like involuntary transfers and RIFs. This makes the evaluation an extremely high stakes issue for a teacher. (On a side note, the use of evaluations in such personnel decisions is serious enough to potentially jeopardize all the hard work and positive collaborative experiences pilot districts have had with TPEP so far. 5895 does have many positive sections, including an extended transitional period to 2015-2016, and the provision of training.) The biology end-of-course exam is already scheduled to become extremely high stakes for students because it will be required for graduation.

Furthermore, 5895 also would make it possible to include student growth data from teams of teachers. It states, “Student growth data elements may include the teacher’s performance as a member of a grade-level, subject matter, or other instructional team. Student growth data elements may also include the teacher’s performance as a member of the overall instructional team of a school.” The intent is to promote collaboration, laudable, but it would mean that a team of 9th and 10th grade science teachers could be evaluated on the only state standardized test available—the biology end-of-course exam.

This team-level evaluation is what complicates the matter for science teachers. The only subject area currently being tested in high school science is biology. If we are evaluated in a high stakes manner on our student test scores, and our student test scores are only in biology, does this mean as a team we should only teach biology? If the only science test our students must pass to graduate is on biology, does this further mean that we should only teach biology?

The double impact of the evaluation and science assessment legislation could have a very harmful impact on science education in our state. Chemistry, physics, earth and space science are all extraordinarily important disciplines and they must not be forgotten, but unfortunately the legislation narrows the focus to biology. The biology end-of-course exam could be delinked from graduation as “Necessary To Implement the Budget” (NTIB) because it would save the state 32 million dollars, and save local school districts 16 million in costs for remediation, retesting, rescoring, and developing alternatives such as a Collection of Evidence. (These figures are from the fiscal note on SB 6314.) This money would be better used for teaching and learning, not testing. To improve science education in our state, and to allow student learning in all science disciplines, the biology end-of-course exam should not be a high stakes exam for either teachers or students.

Leave a comment


  1. Damn straight, it should be biology first, biology second and biology always. Just point me to the book and let me at it. Your humble servant.

  2. Actually, trying to keep my smart aleck nature in check , you have a very well reasoned point that I hope will be brought to the attention of our legislators. Most teachers don’t care too much about a Biology EOC but your point that all teachers could end up evaluated by a test they have no control is a widespread problem.

    • Todd, bringing this issue to our legislators’ attention is my plan for this week! Any emails you or anyone else sends, particularly on incorporating into the budget the delinking of the biology end-of-course exam from graduation requirements, would be much appreciated!

      There are clearly many factors that influence a students’ success or lack thereof on a test, and many of these factors have nothing to do with the teacher. Your comment about teachers potentially being evaluated by a test over which they have no control is a good point as well.

      We can only hope we don’t end up like Tennessee:

      Here’s a quote from the article: “Because there are no student test scores with which to evaluate over half of Tennessee’s teachers — kindergarten to third-grade teachers; art, music and vocational teachers — the state has created a bewildering set of assessment rules. Math specialists can be evaluated by their school’s English scores, music teachers by the school’s writing scores.

      The state is requiring teachers without test results to be evaluated based on the scores of teachers at their school with test results. So Emily Mitchell, a first-grade teacher at David Youree Elementary, will be evaluated using the school’s fifth-grade writing scores.

      “How stupid is that?” said Michelle Pheneger, who teaches ACT math prep at Blackman High and is also being evaluated in part based on writing scores. “My job can be at risk, and I’m not even being evaluated by my own work.”

  3. Tennessee is scary! I’ll be emailing this week too!

    Thanks, Maren!

  4. And I was planning on having a legislative/union free weekend. I guess starting out Friday at the town hall meeting was a poor choice if that is what I really wanted to do. Who would be the best people to e-mail. I will send an all CEA to that effect if you think it would help. Todd

    • Hi Todd and Al, and anyone else interested in emailing:

      Who is it best to contact first? Well our own legislators in the 24th district are always good places to start. Mention their visits to Chimacum!

      Representative Steve Tharinger
      Representative Kevin Van de Wege
      Senator Jim Hargrove
      For legislators in other districts, go to

      To allow for comprehensive science education in our state by delinking the biology end-of-course exam from graduation requirements and to save the state 32 million dollars in the upcoming budget, you might email our own legislators as well as house and senate education committee leadership:

      Senator Rosemary McAuliffe
      Senator Christine Rolfes
      Representative Sharon Tomiko-Santos
      Representative Kristine Lytton

      The Teacher/Principal Evaluation Pilot work we have been doing in Chimacum has been very positive, and looks like it might result in some very solid professional growth experiences for us, as well as improving teaching and learning in our school. That is why it is so disheartening to see that in SB 5895 “student growth data must be a substantial factor in evaluating the summative performance of certificated classroom teachers for at least three of the evaluation criteria.” Then, these evaluations based on student growth data would be a factor in deciding involuntary transfers and RIFs. It would be nice to be able to get some experience with the pilot process before major changes like these are made. Even the first round of pilot districts from last year have not yet even been able to get their first evaluations complete at this point, so it does seem early to already be changing the system around!

      The potential negative impact on science education in our state is a very unfortunate by-product. If the biology end-of-course exam is high stakes for both students and teachers, biology may well be the only focus in schools. The biology end-of-course exam is already high stakes for students in that it will be required for graduation. To make it high stakes for teachers as well by making it part of an evaluation that will be a factor in involuntary transfers and RIFs, could cause serious harm to physical science programs. The “student growth data as a member of a team” is what might contribute to physical science teachers being evaluated on biology end-of-course exam data.

      One other issue I didn’t mention yet is that 5895 states that “Student input may be included in the evaluation process.” This would mean student surveys and so forth.

  5. I know this conversation has gone cold (its now August, the post was February)…but it is worth adding that the language of the bill also states that student growth data must include two points in time, which the biology EOC is not. If an administrator were to attempt to use EOC data against a teacher, the admin would lose just from a straight interpretation of the law. The law also states that student data could be culled from classroom-based assessments (such as teacher designed assessments).

  6. Hi Mark, thanks for reading!  Your points are definitely true, and are an important consideration.  Please note I wrote this post while 5895 was a bill, and not yet a law, and the specifics were still being debated.


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