Why Are Teachers Suspicious of Test Score Driven Assessments? Why We Can’t De-Link Evaluation from Supervisory/Peer Judgments?

Teacher evaluation has languished, unchanged for eons, I have the distinct feeling that if we explore cuneiform tablets we’d find a teacher observation report.

 The first question that a new supervisor asks a mentor, “can you help me to write an observation report?” The reports are not paeans of literary excellence:  summary of the lesson, a few commendations, a few criticisms, a few suggestions and a last line, “this is an (un)satisfactory lesson.”

In our current techno world observation reports should contain classroom video clips, links to student data and interactive bells and whistles. Unfortunately, techno phobia reigns.

In many schools teacher evaluation is on a back burner, principals are overwhelmed with administrative details, formal observations are few, or, totally absent.

In a system of 70,000 plus teachers less than one half of one percent of teachers received unsatisfactory ratings, and, most of the ratings were for excessive absence/lateness, not incompetence.

Ratings were solely based on principal judgment.

 In the last few years the world of teacher evaluation has undergone a sea change.

The Klein administration provides each principal with Tenure Notification Reports, access to experienced principals and attorneys and encourages principals to become proactive.  The number of unsatisfactory ratings and tenure denials has sharply escalated.

The Department has created huge warehouses (ARIS) of student achievement data, in New York State ELA/Math tests are administrated annually to students in grades 3-8, these data are readily available.

 The Teacher Data Initiative (TDI), utilizing state testing data compares teachers in similar schools teaching similar kids and gives each teacher a percentile grade.  The Department website directs principals not to use the TDI scores to evaluate individual teachers, however, the Mayor directed the Chancellor to use TDI scores in tenure determinations (the union will probably challenge through the grievance process).

The extent to which individual teachers impact   student achievement is called “value-added,” and is becoming a core component in the teacher assessment process.   From Washington DC, to Los Angeles (see podcast here )  to  New York State some iteration of “value-added” is becoming part of the evaluation process. In LA, and perhaps in Washington DC, individual teacher value-added scores may be made public.

Scholars are divided. 

In a strikingly simple U-tube  cognitive scientist Dan Willingham shows us six reasons why “value-added” scores are NOT valid and reliable teacher assessment tools.

While teachers are deeply suspicious teacher unions in a number of cities/states have agreed that part of the teacher evaluation determination will include some element of pupil achievement data.

In perhaps  a week the feds will announce the winners in the quest for the “pieces of silver,” excuse me, the Race to the Top dollars, in which  a test scores driven teacher evaluation system garners extra “points.”

To delink teaching from results is foolish, good teaching is defined by results. To ignore external forces is also foolish. Some middle class kids come to kindergarten knowing their numbers and letters, and a vocabulary of a few thousand words while others have spent their first years planted in front of TV minded by older siblings, or an aging grandparent, and a vocabulary of a few hundred words. We expect the teacher of each of these cohorts of kids to produce progress, can it be accurately measured by a standardized test, or, is the principal the best judge of teaching effectiveness?

Teachers are rightfully suspicious.

The teacher who fails most of his/her students because they fail tests is not blameless: “what do you expect from kids from this neighborhood?” is not an excuse or a defense. Neither is the teacher who passes all the kids for the same reason.

The supervisor, or teacher leader, or whatever term we want to use has an obligation to be in classrooms on a daily basis, the monitoring of instruction, not administrivia  must be the core of their daily duties. Establishing an instructional environment that allows teachers to interact, to co-plan and co-think is essential.

Reducing teacher evaluation to value-added assessments is like reducing baseball to sabermetrics, it is “interesting,” but not predictive,  data is essential in planning and informing instruction, it in not the sole determinent of effective teaching

The ultimate evaluator can only be peers and/or supervisors, who are intimately involved in a teacher’s daily practice.

Update: see excellent analysis of value-added shortcomings here.


4 responses to “Why Are Teachers Suspicious of Test Score Driven Assessments? Why We Can’t De-Link Evaluation from Supervisory/Peer Judgments?

  1. Nice u-tube video; even a principal or superintendent might be able to understand it. (Unfortunately a chancellor or mayor, never.)


  2. I am a teacher who regularly failed most of my high school social studies students, not only because they failed tests but because they usually failed every aspect of learning. They did little or no homework, paid little or no attention, rarely completed special projects, and shunned make-up opportunities. Of course, the mass tragedy played out in my classroom was all my fault. Students, parents, chancellors, and mayors are beyond evaluation. Poverty and its deep discontents fall heavily on young minorities, but social pathogies are off the table, too. And where is the UFT and AFT in this upsidedown ed world? With the enemies of teachers.


  3. You must be kidding! How can you trust any principal with a pen?


  4. ed in the apple

    Just the Facts:
    Teachers will always be rated/evaluated, either by principals, peers, data or some combination thereof.


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