Much of the 2010 education news has revolved around teacher evaluation. What makes a good teacher? How can you evaluate teachers? Is merit pay a good thing?
Students Know A Good Teacher When They See One
Well, how about asking the students? According to preliminary results released earlier this month, from a $45 million research project, the views of the students are a good way of distinguishing good teachers from bad.
As a teacher with over 20 years in the classroom, I have to question why these researchers deemed this such an innovative idea. Checking in with your students periodically seems like a no-brainer.
Student Views Correlate With Value-Added Ratings
That said, the results of this research are interesting.
From The New York Times:
Teachers whose students described them as skillful at maintaining classroom order, at focusing their instruction and at helping their charges learn from their mistakes are often the same teachers whose students learn the most in the course of a year, as measured by gains on standardized test scores, according to a progress report on the research.
Financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the two-year project involves scores of social scientists and some 3,000 teachers and their students in Charlotte, N.C.; Dallas; Denver; Hillsborough County, Fla., which includes Tampa; Memphis; New York; and Pittsburgh.
The research is part of the $335 million Gates Foundation effort to overhaul the personnel systems in those districts.
Statisticians began the effort last year by ranking all the teachers using a statistical method known as value-added modeling, which calculates how much each teacher has helped students learn based on changes in test scores from year to year.
Now researchers are looking for correlations between the value-added rankings and other measures of teacher effectiveness.
What Is Value-Added?
“Value-added rankings” is the buzz phrase in education currently, especially after The Los Angeles Times released those rankings on about 6,000 Los Angeles elementary school teachers and 470 elementary schools.
Third-, fourth- and fifth-grade teachers who taught at least 60 students from the 2002-03 through 2008-09 academic years were evaluated in the Times analysis.
A teacher’s value-added rating is based on his or her students’ progress on the California Standards Tests for English and math. The difference between a student’s expected growth and actual performance is the “value” a teacher added or subtracted during the year.
Outrage In Los Angeles
Teachers and UTLA, the Los Angeles Teachers’ Union, were outraged at the publication of these scores, and there is indeed reason to be concerned. One big issue is the model used for “value-added,” since there are several possible ways to configure those scores.
And an even bigger issue – to evaluate teachers based solely on standardized test scores is wrong. All testing experts agree that it’s important to take several measures into account when evaluating teachers and students.
Even so, this Gates-funded research has produced some clear early results. Students were asked to fill out confidential questionnaires about the learning environment their teachers create. Turns out that there was quite a bit of agreement between the students’ ratings and the teachers’ value-added scores.
For example, classrooms where a majority of students said they agreed that “Our class stays busy and doesn’t waste time” were in general led by teachers with high value-added scores.
Get Rid Of ‘Drill And Kill’
Another interesting finding: according to Vicki L. Phillips, a director of education at the foundation, teachers who incessantly drill their students to prepare for standardized tests tend to have lower value-added scores.
“Teaching to the test makes your students do worse on the tests,” Ms. Phillips said. “It turns out all that ‘drill and kill’ isn’t helpful.”
Memo To Bill Gates: Try Asking Teachers About Their Classrooms
Some of us teachers could have told you that already, although it must be said that teaching to the test is not the same as preparing your students for a test. I routinely prepare my students for quizzes and tests, but I don’t use the ‘drill and kill’ method.
Memo to Bill Gates: try asking teachers what are good ways to evaluate them. You might actually get some useful responses.
Photo credit: Creative Commons - hoyasmeg