Since I don’t have any kids in the Chicago public school system, I can afford to be grateful to striking teachers and a recalcitrant mayor for giving needed publicity to a very important education reform issue: using student results to evaluate teachers.
One of the comments on this blog really captured my own sentiments: Teachers and administrators need to stop fighting about whether data about student performance should be one of the tools used to evaluate teachers and schools, and start working together to improve these tools and to figure out how they can help teachers strengthen their performance.
Yes, of course the teacher and school “scores” must be analyzed in light of student demographics, including poverty and language barriers. Yes, of course teachers should be evaluated by how far they have brought the students who actually landed in their classroom, not some hypothetical student who faces fewer challenges. We don’t want to repeat the mistakes of No Child Left Behind.
Still, we now have much better statistical tools to assess the value added by teachers and schools. These tools are far from perfect, and they shouldn’t be used as the sole basis for performance (I don’t know of any school districts that insist they should.) But please, let’s move beyond the whether to the how!
In that spirit, I’d like to share a very sensible article that appeared in Education Sector earlier this week. I’m posting most of it here:
Teachers are, of course, right to expect that the measures by which they are evaluated be fair and equitable, and what little research there has been on the subject shows that existing value-added models suffer from a number of flaws. In Tennessee, for instance, teachers in non-testing grades were judged heavily by the test scores for their entire schools – something over which the teachers had little control. In the District of Columbia, where teachers can be fired on the basis of the three-year-old IMPACT evaluation system, teachers complain that test scores are weighted too heavily and don’t correlate well with scores from observations. Both systems are being tweaked.
The leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union and Chicago Public Schools need to work together to get the metrics right. That means agreeing on a holistic model that combines impartial classroom observation and test scores, that accounts for student background factors, and that uses a formula that isolates and accurately captures the value a teacher actually adds. Coming up with such a system isn’t easy, and it seems reasonable to ask that it be tested for at least a year before being deployed in a high-stakes way. Teachers should also demand that the results of the evaluations be used to significantly improve professional development. If districts are going to hold teachers to higher standards – as well they should – they need to give those teachers the resources they need to meet them.
But fighting the whole idea of test-based evaluation is a losing battle. The Obama administration has called for districts to include test scores in evaluations as part of its Race to the Top grant program. And 24 states now require districts to include some measure of student growth in teacher evaluations. In virtually every other field of endeavor, employees are rated and reviewed, and their jobs rise and fall on the outcomes of their performance. Teachers grade their students, too, with equally consequential results.
At the very least, resisting test-based evaluation is bad PR at a time when labor unions can least afford it. As Michael Petrilli of the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has helpfully noted, unemployment is over 8 percent, and the average Chicago teacher makes $76,000 a year. It’s time for Chicago teachers to get with the program – and for Chicago kids to get back to school.