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Teacher Evaluation is More than a State Exam Score

Apr 29, 2011

With the Race to the Top grant as the catalyst, teacher evaluation is the hot topic Du Jour. Back when the dinosaurs roamed the earth and I was a classroom teacher my evaluation was based on classroom management. If I didn’t send kids to the office I was considered an exceptional teacher.

Today a teacher can get the dog and pony out of the closet and put together a superb lesson for the few times a year principal observation happens. The objective and subjective evaluation systems that principles use range from worthless to terrific. There is very little consistency in the evaluation instruments from district to district. If you are going to evaluate teachers shouldn’t you use the same rules.

Teachers are the main component in the learning process. According to a report by the L.A. Times and the Rand Corp. that looked at 6,000 Math and English state teachers, found “teacher effectiveness is three times more influential than school attendance on student performance.”

Nations compare results on the NAEP and brag about their ranking. States rank their districts based on the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) percent on the state exam. Local districts receive awards or end up on the naughty list based on the student results from the state test. Now the spotlight is centered on teacher effectiveness. http://www.freakonomics.com/2010/08/17/better-scho...

What’s funny is everybody in the school and the parent community usually know who the good and bad teachers are. It’s not a secret there’s a science teacher that gave everyone in the class high grades but read the newspaper instead of teaching. Principals knew, other teachers knew, students knew, and parents knew what was happening. Since the grades were high, the complaints were few. http://gulzar05.blogspot.com/2010/10/school-grades...

Now we have a third party objective (tongue in cheek) arbiter, the State exam as the teacher accountability measurement stick. It’s pretty easy to look at a student’s score on a state exam and determine whether the teacher did a good or bad job. More important, it’s real easy to explain that measurement model to the public. They get it. They even say things like “at my job, if I don’t perform I get fired”.

So what is the problem? Measuring a teacher’s effectiveness is complicated. Growth models are all the rage. All students should grow one academic year based on the assessment results. This is a good start for measuring teacher effectiveness. A student at the sixth grade level at the start of the year should be at the seventh grade level at the end of the year even if he is currently a tenth grader. These growth model systems sometimes called “value added measurement systems” are complex. SAS, a fortune 100 company built such a system for the state of Pennsylvania and its measurement algorithm is a proprietary trade secret. These models have some short comings. They can only measure growth if students take an exam each year. If a subject is not tested then measuring growth can’t be done and many subjects are not tested.

How do we measure all the other critical components students learn and used to become productive citizens? Twenty first century life skills like communication, collaboration, critical thinking, and creativity are very important skills but not easy to measure.

New Jersey’s governor Christie has a bold plan to evaluate teachers, “As much as 45 percent of a teacher’s evaluation could be based on how much their students improve on statewide tests under a task force proposal released Thursday by Governor Christie.” Other states like Florida are using the FCAT (state exam) to measure and then reward teachers. Can Florida fairly grade its teachers?

Teacher evaluation will not go away. Designing a fair teacher evaluation system will be controversial and difficult. However, if teachers are going to be perceived as other professionals are perceived, it will be necessary.

We do live in exciting times.

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