At last the state Board of Education has given up trying to incorporate statewide student mastery test results in evaluations of Connecticut’s public school teachers. Since the teacher unions are the most powerful special interest in the state and the largest component of the majority political party, the Democratic Party, the surprise is that the Malloy administration persisted with the idea as long as it did.

While the board’s decision was only political cowardice, a good argument against using student test results in teacher evaluations was available to the teacher unions, though they never made it. That is, judging teacher performance by student test scores would be grossly unfair when Connecticut refuses to use the scores to judge the performance of students themselves. Indeed, Connecticut refuses to judge its elementary and high school students by any measure.

For Connecticut’s educational system long has been entirely one of social promotion. There are no learning requirements for promotion from grade to grade or for a high school diploma. The system’s only irreducible objective is student self-esteem: No one’s feelings may be hurt by acknowledging his failure to learn.

So while it is pathetic that Connecticut's teacher evaluation system finds 99 percent of teachers to be proficient, it is catastrophic that nationally administered tests of the state’s high school seniors report that half have failed to master high school English and two-thirds have failed to master high school math but are graduated anyway.

Why have the teacher unions never complained about social promotion? Why did they object only to recording social promotion’s consequences in their own evaluations?

Probably because holding students to account would increase demands for holding teachers to account. That’s why teacher evaluations, alone of evaluations of government employees in Connecticut, are exempt from disclosure under state freedom-of-information law. Yet who has more influence in society — sanitation workers, road maintainers, office clerks, or teachers?

It is all cause for the “bitter sorrow” the philosopher Goethe felt about his fellow Germans, “so estimable in the individual and so wretched in the generality.”

Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, CT.