How to Fix the Mess with Teacher Evaluation

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Using student test scores to evaluate teachers is harmful to them and to their students.  It’s a simplistic approach to a complex, but not insurmountable problem.  The knowledge we need to improve teaching is readily available.  We can find it in successful schools and from teachers, as well as from research.  What is lacking, is the will and commitment to seek this knowledge.

In 2009, there were 15 states that required test results as one component of teacher evaluation.  By 2015, that number jumped to 43 states. So what is the rationale for this?  The intent is to pressure teachers whose students are not performing well to improve their teaching, or failing to do so, be forced from the classroom.  But the assumptions behind this approach are false:

ASSUMPTION #1  —  We know how to link teacher performance, student learning and test scores.

Actually, we don’t know how to do this.  About 95% of educational researchers dispute this assumption.  They believe the approach of value added models or VAM, is not reliable or valid.  How can a system be valid when teachers who score high one year, score low the following year?  Might not other factors contribute to test results, such as: student characteristics, a new curriculum or the validity of the tests?

SUGGESTIONS:

  1.  Insure that students are assigned to teachers using a randomized approach that allows a fair comparison between teachers whenever that need arises.

  2. Analyze test scores over a 3 year period, rather than yearly; searching for patterns in performance.

  3. Teachers who are identified as falling below the average of their grade level, receive assistance in the form of: professional development, coaching and opportunities to watch other teachers’ lessons.

ASSUMPTION 2 — Using test scores to motivate teachers to improve their teaching is a valid approach.

A consensus of studies appears to agree with the following statement; “There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.” ERIC: ED516803

The above assumption is based upon Theory X of human motivation discussed in my last post.

A number of national polls reveal that teachers feel that they are under unprecedented stress by the focus placed upon them by policy makers. Network for Public Education’s Survey

SUGGESTIONS:

  1. Create a school culture focused on strong teacher collaboration.

  2. Provide frequent opportunities for teachers to learn from each other.

  3.  Establish a teacher evaluation system based on current standards for effective teaching.

ASSUMPTION 3 — Students will benefit from VAM.

Some of the negative consequences when teachers believe that their job may depend upon test scores are:

  • testing becomes the main focus of instruction to the neglect of other subjects and activities

  • stress on students as well as teachers when test are given paramount importance

  •  temptation to cheat

SUGGESTIONS:

  1. Stop using test results to measure teacher performance.

  2. Fully engage teachers in the design and implementation of the evaluation process using the best research available.

ASSUMPTION 4 — Teachers not meeting expectations will be removed from teaching

From the limited evidence we have so far, using test results has not made much of a difference. One recent quote undermines this assumption: “The vast majority of teachers — almost all — are identified as effective or highly effective.National Council on Teacher Quality.

SUGGESTIONS:

1.  Teachers identified as in need of assistance receive a jointly created improvement plan.

2. Failure to achieve the objectives in the plan may lead to removal from teaching.

3.  Expectations and supervisor recommendations need to be clear and specific.

I hope that this post serves as a springboard for discussion to reduce teacher and administrator stress under the current system for teacher and principal evaluations.

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