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Teacher Evaluation Correlated to Test Scores is Problematic

Guest Post:  Charles Maranzano, Jr., Ed. D., Superintendent, Hopatcong Borough Schools

States and Schools across the country are scrambling to implement new systems for the evaluation of teachers in order to qualify for national Race to the Top funding for public education.  Under U.S. Department of Education guidelines states will be required to implement new evaluation models that weigh heavily upon some form of standardized test scores in order to judge teacher performance.   The inclusion of student accountability measures into new methods of evaluation may play an important role in determining the final summative rating for teachers but the inclusion of standardized tests is problematic.  The movement to quantify educational outcomes tied to teacher retention, tenure, or income, lacks validity and reliability and may lead educators down a dark path.

The recent release of the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) Project sponsored by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation supports teacher evaluation based upon student test score outcomes.  What the report fails to address are the problems associated with testing in general,  student outcomes in non-tested areas of the curriculum, and cannot account for cumulative effects for students who participate in a variety of subject specific disciplines across the curriculum. 

Consider Language Arts as an example, an area of the curriculum that is tested in all states by a standardized test instrument.  If the objective of testing was to measure the impact of a specific teacher on language arts development then it would be reasonable to assume that one teacher is responsible for this learning and measure accordingly.  This is not accurate or possible because we cannot isolate or attribute Language Arts development to any one particular teacher.

Beyond kindergarten and beginning with grade level elementary schools, students are exposed to multiple teachers on a daily basis. A clear case could be made that multiple teachers have an influence upon language development of a child beginning with first grade.  Fast forward to a typical middle or high school curriculum where students spend many hours per day with different subject specific teachers and attributing student learning in Language Arts to a specific teacher becomes impossible. 

When it comes to student achievement on a standardized test for Language Arts, which teacher had the most influence?  Can we attribute any positive gains exclusively to one particular teacher?  Is it possible to account for variations in testing conditions or the health or attitude of a student the day of a standardized test?  What about influences outside of the school setting that might impact a positive or negative test score?

If you consider that most of the academic disciplines embedded in a comprehensive middle to high school curriculum are not tested by any form of standardized assessment, the argument for minimizing teacher evaluation based on testing instruments increases.  Many states are skirting this important issue by requiring local school districts to develop their own instruments for student assessment in non-standardized tested areas of the curriculum.  These locally grown test devices in areas such as foreign language, sciences, humanities, drama, art, music, physical education, all are suspect when it comes to the importance of validity and reliability in teacher evaluation.

If under Race to the Top criteria student achievement outcomes in standardized tests are to account for fifty percent of a teacherís evaluation, and that the evaluation devices currently in development will have an impact on tenure or retention, then the credibility of the process will certainly suffer immensely.  The findings of the MET project suggest that evaluation is compromised when more than half a teacherís evaluation is based on test score measures. 

Why are states being pushed to adopt new designs for teacher evaluation when national research indicates that the variables associated with excellent teaching are elusive at best?  The educational community is not exclusively defined by quantitative outcomes but relies in large part on qualitative ones.  Measuring the qualitative components of a teacherís specific impact on student outcomes is much more complex than any evaluation model in use or in development can account for.

Evaluation models need to evolve that produce a more balanced and accurate picture of student outcomes.  Letís stop attempting to rely on only a snapshot of performance that standardized test scores account for in favor of a motion picture that measures student growth over time.   Look for a combination of components in evaluation that deliver a more complete account of teacher effectiveness for teachers of all subjects.   Finally, let us celebrate the contributions of teachers across a broad range of subjects and abandon a one-size-fits-all evaluation model that is destine to fail our teachers and Americaís public schools.  

Posted By Meg Carnes | 1/25/2013 9:25:17 AM

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