Last week I wrote here about New York Mayor Bloomberg’s State of the City address, in which he proposed a merit pay system that would reward teachers based on the performance of their students on standardized tests.
As I noted in my article, while this might seem like a good idea, there are many reasons why it is not, the two most important being that it is educationally unsound to measure student growth on the basis of one test, and that many of these tests are extremely poorly constructed.
Can A Few Years’ Data Reveal Bad Teachers?
Now The New York Times’ Room for Debate has posed these questions: Can A Few Years’ Data Reveal Bad Teachers? With years of data, it seems possible to distinguish good teachers from poor ones. Does that indicate that, after collecting two or three years’ data on each new hire, districts should be using test scores for decisions about firings, tenure and pay?
In a fascinating set of responses (and you too can join in), several experts have answered that question, and I encourage you to read them all. Meanwhile, here are just two opinions, from opposite perspectives.
Test Scores Are Only A Snapshot
Test Scores Are Only A Snapshot, says Dawn Shirk, who teachers ESOL in Reidsville, New York:
I have worked in schools, for example, that taught nothing but reading and math in third grade, because those were the tested areas for that year. No science was included until fifth grade, because that is when students are tested in this subject. The students might pass those tests, but what kind of education are they getting? And what will become of the low-performing schools? No good teachers will want to go there. How does this serve the students?
Yes, there are poor teachers who need to be weeded out, but this should be done based on the work they do throughout the year. Teachers need to be held accountable for 180 days of teaching to prepare the student for that testing moment, not for that moment itself.
The Value Of Test Scores
By contrast, Raj Chetty and John N. Friedman, of Harvard, and Jonah E. Rockoff of Columbia, argue that test scores are extremely valuable:
Our recent study shows that when a high-value-added teacher enters a school, test scores for students in the grade taught by that teacher rise immediately (as shown in the figure below). And the gains don’t stop there: the students who learn from that teacher are more likely to attend college, earn more, and are less likely to have children as teenagers. Even when new teachers are evaluated with just a few years of data, those who get high value-added ratings produce large gains for their students.
Other Countries Place Almost No Emphasis On Test Scores When Evaluating Teachers
It is worth noting here that other countries place no, or little, emphasis on test scores when evaluating teachers.
The move toward incorporating student test scores into evaluations has been hugely controversial in the United States, and one where there is little international precedent. Though other nations do look at student work and some, such as Singapore, review student scores, standardized tests generally receive less weight than other sources of information, including parent surveys, inspections, and peer review. Indeed, teacher evaluation is generally broader in scope and less formalized in countries where much professional accountability comes from colleagues rather than outside monitors.
Perhaps it is time for the U.S. to start checking out how other countries evaluate their teachers, since in the area of using standardized test scores, the U.S. stands almost alone.
What do you think?
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