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An Argument Against Test-Score Evaluation of Teachers
From the Marshall Memo #440
In this opinion piece in Education Week, College of the Holy Cross (MA) professor Jack Schneider takes note of the growing popularity of evaluating teachers based on student test-score gains rather than classroom observations. “It won’t be long before high-stakes personnel decisions – hiring, firing, and divvying up pay raises – are conducted by computers running algorithms rather than by administrators toting clipboards,” he says.
Teacher union leaders have argued strenuously against this approach, but Schneider believes that proponents of data-based teacher evaluations are winning the argument with policymakers by portraying teachers as self-interested impediments to reform. Here are the two main union arguments against data-driven teacher evaluation and how they are being countered:
• The new approach to teacher evaluation is really an attack on job security. “They’re not focused on improvement,” said one union representative; “they’re focused on kicking people out.” The counterargument is that ineffective teachers should be removed, and the current superficial system of supervision and evaluation isn’t doing the job. Student-achievement results don’t lie, and they can be used not only to dismiss bad teachers but to reward good ones. Top-scoring teachers in Washington DC can make $140,000 a year.
• Student-achievement data fluctuate from year to year and are therefore unreliable. One study found the value-added error rate to be as high as 35 percent. A teacher in the top 20 percent one year can be in the bottom 20 percent the next. The counterargument is that the numbers smooth out after several years, clearly identifying effective and ineffective teachers. “The math involved is too complicated for laypeople to decipher,” says Schneider, “and the aggregate research is easily cherry-picked.”
He believes a stronger argument against using student test data to evaluate teachers is that current multiple-choice tests are weak. They don’t measure thinking, writing, the ability to persuade, perform an experiment, do original research, or show prowess in civics or robotics. “Instead,” says Schneider, “it is about memorized minutiae and good guesses. We accept this approach to measurement only because it is so common. And it is common not because it actually measures achievement, but because it is time-efficient and cost-effective. Simply put, we’re using the wrong instrument.”
What we need to do, he argues, is develop better assessments that measure learning outcomes and habits of mind that are valued by teachers, scholars, and the American public. Poor assessments lead to dumbed-down instruction and cause good teachers to leave the profession. “Unwilling to play a thoughtless and artless game, they will stand up and leave the table,” says Schneider. “And they won’t come back.”
“The High Stakes of Teacher Evaluation” by Jack Schneider in Education Week, June 6, 2012 (Vol. 31, #33, p. 28-30), http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2012/06/06/33schneider.h31.html