A new study on teacher evaluations suggests that the more students who refuse to take standardized tests, the less fair a teacher's evaluation becomes, at least when student scores are a factor.

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A new study on the use of test scores in teacher evaluations may shed some light on whether a growing number of students declining to take standardized tests in Seattle will affect teachers here.

The report, from the Brown Center on Education Policy, suggests that when enough students refuse to take statewide exams, their teachers are more likely to get an inaccurate evaluation rating — at least when student test scores are a factor in teachers’ job reviews.

That dilemma may soon surface in Seattle, where more students than usual are refusing to take new Common Core exams, and where — unlike much of the rest of Washington state — student test scores do play a role when school leaders evaluate a teacher’s performance.

About half the junior class at three Seattle high schools have refused to sit for the new exams, called Smarter Balanced, in part because those students have already taken the state tests they need to pass to graduate. Juniors are required to take the exams so the school district can comply with federal requirements that mandate annual testing. Sophomores, who must pass the new reading test to graduate, don’t appear to be opting out as often as juniors, according to district estimates. In the past, only a handful of students at those schools refused to take the test.

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The Brown Center study used math scores from North Carolina fourth- and fifth-graders to map out a couple of opt-out scenarios. It looked at what ratings teachers would receive, using New York state’s rating system, based on how many students took the tests and how many refused.

If a handful of students opted out, the study found that little changed in a teacher’s risk of getting the lowest score on an evaluation. But if a majority of the class refused to take the test — say, 15 of the 20 students in a classroom — the teacher was nearly twice as likely to earn the lowest — or highest — rating.

If a large number of students refuse to take the tests, the New York teacher evaluation system would be “measurably less fair,” the study’s authors said.

It’s unclear whether the number of opt-outs in Seattle have reached that level. A school district spokeswoman said it was too early to talk about how they might impact teachers because the district won’t know how many students refused to take the exams until testing ends around early June.

To be sure, Seattle’s teacher evaluation system is not New York’s. Here, low test scores trigger a closer look by a principal but can’t by themselves jeopardize a teacher’s job. And there’s no pay raise for teachers whose students perform well on state tests — although strong student growth is a criteria for some higher-paying peer mentoring positions.

Still, a large number of opt-outs could affect teachers — and schools. In Washington, every student who opts out is counted as scoring a zero, so a mass of students refusing to take the exams will bring down their school’s passage rates.