We have to move beyond this notion that we cannot measure what students know. We may not have the perfect instrument now, but virtually every other profession, including doctors whom we expect to make real life and death decisions, have found objective ways to sort different performers. Arguers against using student results as the basis for teacher evaluations seem to believe that education as a profession is exempt from being accountable for results.
Food for thought. In the Fort Worth Independent School District in Texas, teacher evaluations and pay bonuses are based on measures of team performance through the Texas state test. Certain bonuses are given to teachers whose whole grade level does better across all subjects. Another pot of bonuses goes to teachers of the same subjects for students who do well across grade levels. This includes art, music, and other untested teachers in the mix, recognizing that teaching is a team sport. If the evaluation system for teachers were a better reflection of the values and culture of teaching, would accountability for results be so divisive?
No one can argue that educators need to be accountable for student outcomes. Deciding what and how to “measure” growth and determining the broader impact of educational experiences on students is, however, a more contentious and complex issue. Standardized state tests , such as those developed and implemented in Texas, measure student performance on a narrow and prescribed curriculum developed by the same folks who developed these assessments. The validity, reliability and instructional value of these tests are, therefore, highly questionable. Documenting what students learn must be multi-faceted. A team approach, such as you are proposing would be one way to broaden the assessment process. I suggest including parents and students on assessment teams. I would not want to see the American medical model of assessment translated to education. Using test scores as a measure of success is similar to believing that taking medications that relive symptoms cure disease. Neither approach get at root causes that reflect unhealthy life styles and ineffective school cultures.
Judy, you raise some very thoughtful issues here. I agree that the validity of the tests is certainly far from perfect and that design has huge impacts on teacher incentives, behavior, and most importantly, trust. Given all of this, I still think that an imperfect teacher evaluation system that incorporates student results is far better than how teachers are evaluated now.
I can recall a similarly heated debate at the passage of NCLB when all states were being required to test all their students. We heard the same heated critiques of the test’s fairness and whether it would unfairly “judge” kids. But we have now come to understand that it was never the act of testing that is the most useful focus, it is, “we have tested, now what?” I think the same lesson applies here. It should never be about the teacher evaluation itself, but what we do to support that teacher once we know where they are.
I think the next great frontier in the value-added debate is how we can start using teacher effectiveness data for formative purposes. So much of the current heat and fear in the debate comes down to the fear associated with being unfairly fired. What is far more interesting to me is how much better we’ll be able to sort teachers by their instructional need with this information.
This conversation brings to mind a blog post on Tom Kane’s thoughtful take on the recent Nashville merit pay study: https://www.google.com/reader/view/?tab=my#stream/feed%2Fhttp%3A%2F%2Ffeeds.feedburner.com%2FRickHessStraightUp
Kane addresses a potential policy outcome that a more rigorous professional evaluation could launch. But the three frameworks that guide people’s thinking on merit pay – or “routes” as Kane says – also apply to the broader evaluation process. How a person views value-add often depends if they think the results will 1) Encourage teachers to work harder, 2) Encourage talented and skilled teachers to remain in teaching, or 3) Bring talented and skilled people into teaching.
Along with the technical questions of value add, education reformers should be prepared to answer the broader questions: Why? What is the goal of this system? (JF)
Here’s the correct link to the Rick Hess blog: http://blogs.edweek.org/edweek/rick_hess_straight_up/2010/09/gates_rd_chief_tom_kane_on_the_nashville_merit_pay_study.html
Check out Education Weekly ,November 8 edition, for some timely information on teachers being “paid for performance.”
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