Grading Teachers Jumps To Prime Time

Whether public school teachers like it or not, the “value added” method of grading them is becoming a reality. This system calculates the value teachers add to or subtract from their students’ achievement, based on changes in standardized test scores from year to year.

Value-added systems have been in place nationwide for a while; school districts around the country, including Washington D.C., Chicago and New York are already using this model to evaluate schools and teachers. And several states, in their desire to win money from the Obama administration’s Race to the Top competition, have committed to using value-added analysis for teacher evaluation.

Los Angeles Times Rates Teachers From Best To Worst

But as Ann Bibby wrote here in August, a major explosion on this issue happened last month when the Los Angeles Times revealed that it had obtained math and English scores of the city’s third through fifth graders over the past seven years. An education economist then used value-added analysis to see how much progress students had made from year to year, under different teachers. Instructors were rated from best to worst. Not surprisingly, there were enormous variations, with the students of some of the 6,000 teachers making great leaps forward, while under other teachers, students fell way behind.

Now the education world is in an uproar, but as Beth Shuster, K-12 education editor at the Times, has pointed out, all the data provided by her paper is public information. There has been no breach of confidentiality here. However, many crucial questions need to be answered.

Why Use Only Standardized Tests?

As a teacher, I use multiple measures in my classroom every day to assess my students. So why is so much emphasis being placed on standardized tests? For one thing, students take these tests just once a year. Further, standardized tests are only one measure of a teacher, and there are many others. And that’s not even dealing with all the problems surrounding standardized tests, such how good they are, whether kids are good test-takers, and the reality that teachers must deal with whoever is put in their classes.  And of course standardized tests are incapable of evaluating so much that is important in education, such as creative thinking and social skills.

How To Interpret The Results?

While all the data used may be publicly available, the interpretation of that data can vary widely: two people can take the same data, and come up with very diverse conclusions. And Ross Wiener, of the Aspen Institute, notes that scores can (and do) bounce around from year to year for any one teacher. So one single year of scores can be misleading. Limitations also exist to the value-added model itself, including the fact that it has many different versions.

How To Use The Information?

In spite of its shortcomings, if the value-added method is used to help educators improve their teaching, that could be helpful. On the other hand, questions arise around using this method for merit pay, as a factor in who gets bonuses, and for the firing of teachers. At a school in Southern California where I taught a few years ago, many of the students were already earning top points on their standardized tests. How were they supposed to improve on those excellent scores?

Education Secretary Arne Duncan
initially supported the work of the Los Angeles Times, but in a speech last week he sounded a note of caution: he stated that in spite of his overall approval, he had never released to news media similar information on teachers when he was the Chicago schools superintendent.

Evaluating teachers more effectively is important, but let’s keep in mind that there is much more to teaching than training students to fill in the bubbles.

Creative Commons - knittymarie


John A.
John A7 years ago

When are parents & students going to be held accountable?
Teachers can spot the children who will end up as failures with 90% accuracy by second grade because it is the students & parents who fail - NOT the teachers!!!
Students who put forth effort & that have parents who support the student AND the teacher succeed!
Stop blaming teachers for all the ills in education. The fault belongs in many laps.

Karen C.
Karen C7 years ago

Both my niece and nephew teach math to middle and high school age students. If education is valued in the home the behavior of the students is usually good and they tend to do better. My nephew has taught at a charter school and a public high school and the attitudes of the parents are much different. My nephew called a parent on consecutive days and the parent reported my nephew to the pricipal as being too stricted. The student had failed to turn in homework on two consecutive days and my nephew notified the parent of each occurance.

jane richmond
jane richmond7 years ago

There is much more to this than meets the eye. Very complex subject.

Natasha Gordon
Natasha Gordon7 years ago

It is complicated, but test results should not be the end all be all.

Nancy Mckenzie
Nancy Mckenzie7 years ago

very useful matter

Jose Ramon Fisher Rodrigu

The conditions in which many teachers work (think of any inner city school for example) should also be taken into consideration.

Rachel M H.

How about testing the parents, too ? Rachel M Hervey PHN

Jeanne M.
Jeanne M7 years ago

Standardized testing will only work when the classrooms are full of standardized students.

Marc Pongpamorn
Marc P7 years ago

Just as long as were doing something to improve our children's education then im happy. i feel standardize testing doesn't really help kids learn, but take up more time in place of learning. thanks for sharing.

Andrea H.
Andrea H7 years ago

Every kids is different, yet everyone expects the teachers to make them learn the same things for the same tests. Sigh...