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

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Test Scores and Teacher Evaluation/ Pay: A Primer

Reporting on the revisions to teacher evaluations in DC public schools, Valerie Strauss makes a key observation:
"When Rhee set the percentage at 50 percent back in 2009, after spending millions of dollars to create the assessment system, she based it on absolutely nothing grounded in research. The 35 percent? Also based on no research."
I have recently argued that test-based teacher evaluations and pay are without credibility (HERE and HERE).

Teachers, parents, and the public who are genuinely concerned about public school quality must enter directly the teacher evaluation/pay debate, but do so informed with the following foundational facts, messages, and questions:

(1) When anyone argues that teacher evaluation/pay must be reformed, ask for evidence of why first. No one has ever established that teacher quality is the most pressing problem in education—or even one of the most pressing problems. Demand that education solutions begin with establishing evidence-based problems to be solved.

(2) Teacher quality is a subset of school quality, and the evidence on how much teacher quality impacts MEASURABLE student outcomes is significantly less than many plans to hold teachers accountable for student test scores (lowered from 50% to 35% in DC and piloting a plan using 40% in SC). The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has shown that school/teacher quality accounts for about 14% of measurable student outcome; conservative researcher and merit-pay advocate Hanushek [1] shows that teacher quality accounts for about 13%-17% of measurable student outcomes. No one can justify holding teachers accountable for student test scores at rates in the teens, much less 35%-50% (although, as I will note below, there is no compelling evidence teachers should be held accountable at all for student test scores).

(3) Holding teachers accountable for student test scores is often posed as evidence-based reform and replacing a subjective system with an objective one. Yet, basic statistics and testing protocol do not support using a test designed for one primary purpose (student testing is designed to measure student learning—and is only a pale representation of that sole purpose) for a different purpose [2]. Second, standardized testing gives the appearance of being "objective" simply because it is quantitative. Standardized testing remains highly biased in ways that disserve the populations of students already being mis-served in society and schools.

(4) Labeling, ranking, and sorting are inherently flawed practices, in both the business world and in education.

(5) Since no one has established that teacher quality is a central problem in education, the excessive cost in time and money needed to create a test-based system that would capture in some fair way teacher quality is disproportionate to the current needs in education reform.

(6) Finally, rejecting test-based teacher evaluation/pay is NOT rejecting teacher accountability. Rejecting test-based teacher evaluation/pay is rejecting a misguided use of high-stakes testing. Teachers should be held accountable for their teaching, but student test scores are not valid proxies of teaching quality.

[1] Hanushek, E. (2010, December). The economic value of higher teacher quality. Working paper 56. Washington, DC: Calder, The Urban Institute.

[2] See Bracey.

1 comment:

  1. "No one has ever established that teacher quality is the most pressing problem in education—or even one of the most pressing problems."

    At a certain point, we can accept that teacher competence can get in the way of student learning, but the cases I'm thinking of aren't particularly nuanced - they're primarily teachers who, with moderately competent or attentive administrators, would never have obtained tenure. But that's peripheral to the point you were trying to make.

    If I may be a bit cynical... the reason that there is no effort to connect the supposed measures of teacher quality to actual performance is that the proponents of those measures have different goals in mind. Testing companies want to sell lots of tests and make lots of money. But the main goal of a lot of "reformers" seems to be to break teacher's unions, to undermine traditional schools of education and teacher certification programs, and to shift funding from public schools to charter and private schools - which the very same reformers may simultaneously argue should be exempt from testing, or should be excused for their poor performance for some number of years because they're "new".