"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

NEPC Report on Teacher Quality

Here is a summary of a recent report on teacher assessment from the National Education Policy Center:
Given the experience to date with an overwhelming focus on student achievement scores as a basis for high-stakes decisions, policymakers would do well to pause and carefully examine the issues that make teacher assessment so complex before implementing an assessment plan. To facilitate such examination, this brief reviews credible research exploring: the feasibility of combining formative assessment (a basis for professional growth) and summative assessment (a basis for high-stakes decisions like dismissal); the various tools that might be used to gather evidence of teacher effectiveness; and the various stakeholders who might play a role in a teacher assessment system. It also offers a brief overview of successful exemplars.
The full report is available here.

As you can see in the post below, Krashen takes a different stance on teacher quality and brings up some excellent points.  Poverty is a very real problem in this country (and the world), and the impacts of poverty on learning, health, and happiness are extremely significant.  We should make every attempt to ensure that no child is forced to grow up in poverty, but I don't think that means we should ignore teacher quality entirely.

I find this report to be significant for two reasons.  Firstly, those promoting VAM will often accuse opponents of failing to suggest any alternatives.  This report outlines some very real options, and I think many teachers would actually welcome feedback from peers and principals.  Secondly, I think putting our heads in the sand about teacher quality is a bad move politically, and one of the only ways of avoiding the VAM onslaught is to promote evaluation systems that are actually fair to teachers, provide avenues for growth, and present a legitimate way to strengthen the profession.  As a bonus, the notes and references section at the end of the report provides a great list of resources for further exploration.

Please note: I'm a CERTAINLY NOT jumping on the teacher-bashing bandwagon, donating to Rhee's new outfit, or advocating for the use of VAM in high-stakes decisions.

Think of it this way: teachers use assessments in order to tailor their future practice.  In some cases this is an informal process.  Teachers observe students, have one-on-one conversations, evaluate artifacts from the classroom, and use a number of other tools to collect information about students.  A more formal assessment might include a short quiz or test.  And - for better or worse - we collect information on students through the widespread use of high-stakes standardized tests.  I think we all know the latter is almost entirely useless to teachers (and downright damaging to the profession and learning, in general), but the earlier examples are actually quite valuable.  In my opinion, this report supports evaluation systems more like the former, and urges great caution in utilizing the latter.

Unfortunately, the current trend these days is to use value-added as a serious component of any teacher evaluation system.  In a number of states, value-added could make up 50% of a teacher's evaluation.  Based on my understanding of the research, I can't see how anyone seriously considers that even remotely acceptable.  (I needn't delve into the philosophical reasons to oppose using VAM as such a serious component of any evaluation system)  There is a fundamental misunderstanding on the part of those pushing VAM to be used so extensively in evaluations: they have no concept of 1) the accuracy and technical issues of various VAM models and 2) they fail to see how, even in a statistically reliable, valid, and defensible value-added model, the use of high-stakes testing in teacher evaluations is almost certain to lead to some pretty predictable (negative) consequences.

Teacher evaluations are not the cure-all of public education.  They are only one tool that should be used to improve our public schools (which are already better than many believe, but the inequity remains downright appalling).  If I could waive a magic wand and either institute fair, high-quality teacher assessments or eliminate poverty, there's no doubt I'd choose the latter.  Ideally, however, we'd be active on both fronts.  Much to our disappointment, the Obama administration has pushed evaluation systems that are absurd, and done little - if anything - to address poverty.

I'll conclude by conceding that Krashen's take is extremely relevant: poverty matters greatly, and the current focus on teacher quality likely distracts us from much bigger problems.  We should absolutely pursue policies that eliminate poverty (tax breaks for the wealthiest, Mr. President?), but we must also speak up when absurd teacher assessment proposals (ie 50% tied to VAM) are pushed by various advocacy groups, think tank wonks, and ignorant politicians.  I see this report as urging policymakers to be careful and thoughtful in developing teacher assessment systems, particularly given the current reform climate.  For that reason and the others mentioned above, I find this report highly relevant and a useful resource for advocates, policymakers, and researchers.

1 comment:

  1. Concerning Krashen's stance on teacher evaluation:

    I am not saying we should forget about teacher quality. I am saying that there is now a national obsession about teacher evaluation, one that is eagerly promoted by the media (e.g major articles in the NY Times and LA Times in the last few days, supporting Gates/Duncan plans). And I do think we should speak up about "absurd teacher assessment proposals." I think I have done this. In fact, I seem to doing little else these days.

    As I said in a post on the Washington Post, also posted on Schools Matter, I agreed with K. Welner that we are always wise to "embrace teacher quality as a goal."

    BUT: The intensive focus on teacher quality, teacher evaluation, and teacher education confirms the false assumption that it has been firmly established that there is something seriously wrong with teachers in the US today and that drastic action must be taken. There is no evidence this is so.

    The claim that our teachers are lousy is based on performance on international test scores. But international test scores, like all other test scores, are largely influenced by poverty - firm evidence of this is the fact that American test scores for middle class children in well-funded schools are at the top of the world. This was confirmed for recent PISA Reading scores.

    (Note: My position on the evidence supplied by international tests has been modified. I had claimed that because our scores are high when you control for poverty, there is no teacher problem in the US. Carole Edelsky has pointed out to me that because these tests are so heavily influenced by poverty, we cannot conclude that they say much at all about teacher quality. All we can really say is that international test scores do not demonstrate that our teachers are bad. They only confirm that poverty is the real problem.)

    In contrast, there is overwhelming evidence that poverty IS the problem. Our major financial efforts now should go toward protecting children from the effects of poverty.

    Yes, let us continue our on-going efforts to improve teaching and teacher evaluation. But there are barriers to learning we can take care of nearly instantly and relatively inexpensively (have I mentioned libraries?) for a fraction of what we are cheerfully willing to spend on new methods of testing students and evaluating teachers. The "reformers" have so clouded the discussion that there is no room to even discuss these things.

    No child left unfed (Ohanian), not
    No child left untested or
    No teacher left unvideotaped.