Should a teacher’s job performance be judged on his or her students’ standardized test score?
Yes, say 80% of U.S. states which subscribe to this theory, but now new research has arrived calling into question whether such scores are a fair measure of a teacher’s job performance.
Researchers from the University of Southern California and the University of Pennsylvania teamed up to determine whether student test scores were a reflection on the quality of teaching. In their newly published study, they failed to find a substantial correlation between scores and the standard of instruction. Teachers that rated highly in a number of ways including principal and student evaluations often had underwhelming test scores. Conversely, teachers who ranked poorly by these other measures had students who scored exceptionally on the tests.
The fact that one facet cannot predict the other suggests that there is a flaw in the way the educational system determines which teachers get to keep their jobs. Speaking to the Washington Post, Morgan Polikoff, a professor and researcher at USC, said, “We need to slow down or ease off completely for the sakes for teachers, at least in the first years, so we can get a sense of ‘what do these things measure? What does it mean?’ We’re moving these systems forward way ahead of the science in terms of the quality of the measures.”
Troublingly, teachers are already actively receiving bonuses or, worse yet, pink slips based upon data that has not yet been proven to be a reliable judge of performance. The national push to make standardized testing the focus of education isn’t benefiting students any more than it is teachers.
The new study is hardly alone in pointing out the disparity between standardized test scores and the characteristics we formerly used to judge good teachers. Not long ago, the American Statistical Association broke down the different factors that account for how well a student does on a standardized test. The group calculated that teacher influence accounts for somewhere between 1 to 14% of a student’s score, meaning that the vast majority of the score is up to factors out of the teacher’s control.
Despite the mounting evidence that test scores are not a good indicator of teacher performance, states are giving growing weight to test scores all the same. 35 states mandate that test scores are a “significant” factor in evaluating teachers, though some have even dictated that it be the “most significant” factor; only ten states do not require test scores to be considered in the teacher evaluation process.
Surprisingly, President Obama’s educational policies are promoting this unfortunate trend. In order for school systems to receive money from the Race to the Top program, they must have restrictive teacher evaluation systems in place.
Teachers already feel enough pressure to teach to the tests, why compound the problem by making their jobs depend on them, too? We stand to undervalue if not outright lose great teachers who pass along the kind of wisdom and thirst for knowledge that standardized tests can’t measure if schools continue down this current path.