Saturday, October 8, 2011

Evaluating Teachers Based On Standardized Test Scores

Evaluating teachers based on the current standardized tests is not going to improve education in America. We need to improve the quality of our tests before we should require this. The tests need to focus more on problem solving and critical thinking. Standardized tests can be used as a diagnostic tool to meet students’ needs and assess progress, but they should not be used to evaluate the quality of teaching. We do not want our teachers to be pressured into viewing students as “Value-Added” and “Value-Subtracted” as they walk into the classroom each day because of the learning differences inherent in each student.

Research shows that more than 60% of student achievement is attributable to factors outside of the teachers’ control—such as family income and parenting effectiveness. We should not evaluate teachers based on these factors outside of their control. We should evaluate teachers on what they control—their own professional practice as educators. A criteria for effective teaching, such as Charlotte Danielson’s Framework for Teaching, provides a system for evaluating teachers on their work as educators. Quality teaching cannot be reduced to the standardized test scores of students. We do not want to take more time and resources away from classroom instruction to devote it to annual standardized tests simply for the purpose of evaluating the teachers—not the teachers.

We should raise the standard for entering the teaching profession and empower teachers as professionals. This includes dramatically improving the quality of teacher preparation programs at the university level. Too many universities view their education programs as a cash cow because they do not require the expensive equipment of other programs like the sciences and they can attract a lot of students. Education programs should be some of the rigorous to get into because of they influence every aspect of society, but they are not because many in this country think that teaching is easy and than anyone can be a decent teacher with just a little training. If we made teaching more difficult to get into as a profession, we would have to make sure that we are compensating teachers well enough to attract talented individuals with the expectation that they will have to work hard to be successful. Then, teachers should be evaluated annually by their administrators and peers based upon their professional practice as educators—not student scores.

The public at large also needs to consider what can be done to improve the behavior of students at schools to put teachers in a better position. Too many teachers face impossible classrooms with students who do not behave themselves and do not value an education. Mythical superstar teachers will not solve this problem. Student behavior needs to be improved before educational outcomes will improve. Teachers need to be given the opportunity and freedom by politicians and administrators to design engaging learning experiences and not restricted by scripts and lock step curriculum mandates because they do not trust their teachers. Scripts and lock step curricula do not engage students in the learning process and turn them off to education.

Charter schools and vouchers are not the answers to this problem. Nationwide charter schools are not better than public schools. Those that do outperform public schools often provide wrap-around services with private money to provide students and families the nutrition, health care and services necessary to be more successful. Meeting these needs begins to address the underlying social problems that manifest themselves in less than desirable outcomes for our educational system. The lack of success is not caused by the schools it is caused by the society and individuals within the society who do not do their part to make the system function properly. We all need to take a hard look at ourselves to evaluate if we our doing our part to help our nation’s young people be successful before we blame schools and teachers.