How Important Are Test Scores In Evaluating Teachers?

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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Photo Credit: iStock


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson5 years ago

the system is poop. standardized tests show only how well a student does with test taking. the progress throughout the year is what a teacher should be evaluated on

Lynda Harrison
Lynda Harrison6 years ago

It is my belief that children should be assessed on what they do every school-day in the classroom rather than what they can repeat, parrot-fashion, on a piece of paper in test conditions. There are many who flunk tests because of nerves or other reasons. However, we do have many "dummies" who are paid to teach. There must surely be a system where such individuals could be "rooted out" of the teaching profession.

Darryll Green
Darryll Green6 years ago

while i was growing up in a small town in N Y, the teachers were graded on how we did for the whole year, not on a couple of test that the kids now are being tought. at the end of the school year, those who needed to be held back were, but guess what almost none were because we all knew what we needed to pass our final tests of the year .which was the guidlines for the teachers grading and our grading. to increase the leval of learning in our schools we need to go back to this type of teaching

Erin D.
Erin Hummer6 years ago

I work in a school and there is one particular child who is failing every subject. The teacher has tried everything to help this child, but it's not working. The parents just make excuses after excuses. It's because he's tired, or he doesn't feel well. The best one was when the dad said he would "outgrow" his behavior by Christmas. Ridiculous!!! The teacher is Fantastic and she shouldn't lose her job because one kid and his parents don't care!!!! Some kids just don't want to learn.

George Boggs
George Boggs6 years ago

The system is broken. The system is top heavy. Bad teachers are promoted to their level of incompetency, good teachers are kept in the classroom to make the administrators look good. Local school boards are elected and that falls on the parents shoulders. The teachers and children get shorted by the system. No one wants to take responsibility for kids not learning just pass them on to the next teacher and then into society. I see a lot of sports celebrities who cannot speak or form a coherent sentence. Who is responsible for that? A lot of people are over educated and have no sense of responsibility. They are the product of our education system. Some children need to be held back until they can grasp the principle of a subject but the administrators will be made to look bad. I don't know the answers but I can recognize the problem and money is not it. A quality education is a must in today's world. We must work towards the same goal or we will become a third world country.

Marilyn L.
Marilyn L6 years ago

I don't believe in these test, some folks do not take tests well. But there should be a merit pay system; I believe they work for all workers and professions. The USA is doing worse every year when compare to the rest of the world not only in education but in other areas. I want us to be on top, not because I want to be number one for power sake, but because I want us to have pride in our country and people and show by our actions and the results of same, that we care about each other. We can evaluate teachers and every worker on the planet, we know how, we just have to want to. We as a people have to want to do better or it's just all talk.

M.E. W.
Mary W6 years ago

The most recent episode of Dan Rather Reports is about the Finish education system - the highest ranked students in the world in every subject. Their model of education is the antithesis of what we've got in the USA, (there is no standardize testing in Finnish system).

Mayor Bloomberg is showing his complete lack of understanding of what the problem is with education in this country. His idea to connect teacher merit pay with student test scores is something that would make sense to a businessman; but the world of education is NOT like a business model.

Standardized tests are good for one thing only - making the standardized testing industry rich.

Will Rogers
Will Rogers6 years ago

Which teacher is going to admit that they're a bad teacher? We can't have them regulating themselves, they'll just put the blame on the parents or the government or something else. There are a lot of bad teachers out there getting away with just coasting'. 
If a student has not been taught properly everyone gets the blame except the teacher who should be the first person to get the blame, after all they get PAID to do that job, it's not as voluntary and as humanitarian as we believe, and every year a significant proportion of students leave school with substandard education because of bad teachers within an intolerant and stubborn system. 
Students who have been failed by their schools should be able to not only sue their schools, but also individual teachers for their deriliction of duties. And in the cause of true transparency we need perusable cameras in the classrooms for parents and employers to evaluate the behaviours and progress of student and teachers.

Lynette H.
Lynette Harrison6 years ago

I taught for 30 years, and I believe that if the principal/school administrator who does the evaluation is inept and uninformed, the test scores are secondary. Way too many principals have no idea how to evaluate teachers. (I always got good evaluations, but I certainly did the horse and pony show.)

Sylvia M.
Sylvia M6 years ago

What does Finland do? And why can't we do that?