JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) -- Missouri could be the first state to enshrine the role of student performance data in teacher evaluations in its state constitution if an initiative on the Nov. 4 ballot gets enough support.
The proposal would amend the Missouri Constitution to require a majority of teachers' evaluation scores be based on student performance data, which could include standardized tests. The measure also would limit future teaching contracts to three years, curbing the current tenure system.
State educator groups are rallying behind the Committee in Support of Public Education, which so far has raised more than $1.8 million to fight the initiative.
But supporters of proposed Constitutional Amendment 3 have stopped campaigning for it after poor public opinion polling. A spokeswoman for the Teach Great organization that sponsored the initiative didn't respond to interview requests from The Associated Press.
Teach Great was financed by investment firm founder Rex Sinquefield, the state's most prominent political donor. The group did not receive any donations in the latest quarter.
Supporters had said the measure was meant to increase teacher accountability and improve education in Missouri's schools. But some parents, teachers and school administrators say they're worried the initiative could force educators to "teach to the test" rather than treating students as individual learners.
Teachers nationally have resisted efforts to tie what they call high-stakes testing to performance evaluations. Some worry about unfair scores for qualified teachers of at-risk children who struggle with school because of factors' beyond the teachers' control. In Missouri, the issue has also raised questions about local control over teacher evaluations, how to test subjects such as the fine arts and the cost of developing tests for those subjects.
U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said in August that too much standardized testing is "sucking the oxygen" out of classrooms. He gave states the chance to delay complying with a federal requirement to tie testing to teacher evaluations.
No other state has approved a constitutional amendment tying teacher evaluations to student performance, according to a review of a National Conference of State Legislatures database. The Center on Great Teachers & Leaders at the American Institutes for Research reports that 39 states and the District of Columbia mandate student learning be included in some way.
Missouri School Boards' Association spokesman Brent Ghan said placing teacher evaluation requirements in the constitution would make them challenging to change later.
"That's one of the biggest flaws," Ghan said. "The constitution is no place for a policy such as this."
Missouri teachers already are evaluated in part based on how students perform in the classroom. The state Department of Elementary and Secondary Education earlier this year adopted guidelines requiring student performance to play a significant factor in how schools evaluate teachers, but it's up to districts to decide exactly how much.
Opponents say the ballot initiative would take away local control over how to rate teachers. Critics also question how districts would gauge student progress in grades and subjects that currently don't have standardized tests, including for students in kindergarten through second grade and physical education classes.
But education officials in other states say similar policies can encourage improvement in previously untested subjects. Tennessee lawmakers four years ago mandated that student performance data make up 25-35 percent of teacher evaluations.
Angela Minnici, director of the Center on Great Teachers & Leaders, said these policies can give educators an incentive to pay more attention to how well their students are progressing and push them to improve. But she cautioned that performance-based teacher evaluations should be paired with other policies to effectively make a difference in classrooms.
"I really hope voters don't go to the polls and think that this single approach is going to really improve teaching," Minnici said, "because we know it won't."
If passed, the changes to teacher evaluations would take effect in July 2015.