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Are test scores true measures of good teachers?

April 17, 2012

Are test scores true measures of good teachers?

Great question right?  I think so, and I am very disappointed that more people are not asking this question critically.  If you are to place all your eggs into one basked, as is the case of education policy today basing everything on testing results.  Wouldn’t it be wise to ask the question in the title to this blog entry?

One lady and her simple, yet poignant sign.

Paula Parnagian lives in Revere. She is past president of Citizens for Public Schools.
April 16, 2012 12:00 AM

The tabloid front page blared its sensational headline (New York Post, 2/25) “Revealed: Teacher Grades.” It sounded like exactly what it was: published test scores linked to individually- named New York City teachers, totaling 12,170. But, what do “value-added” scores reveal?

Variables in the computation of each teacher’s individual or “value added” scores, includes poverty index, numbers of limited English Language Learners (ELL), special education kids, students of color, etc. The report looks at test results in mathematics and reading from the previous year, predicting an expected level of achievement for each student. A teacher’s “value-added” rating is the difference between predicted and actual student achievement on math and reading tests.

Are “value-added” ratings simple, logical, assertive and true in their assessment of a teacher’s effectiveness in a classroom? Eminent education historian, Diane Ravitch, a professor at New York University, former Assistant Secretary of Education under President George H. W. Bush, disagrees. In a recent NY Review of Books blog, Ravitch wrote, “Most testing experts believe that the methods for calculating teachers’ assumed “value-added” qualities — that is, their abilities to produce higher test scores year after year — are inaccurate, unstable, and unreliable. Teachers in affluent suburbs are likelier to get higher value-added scores than teachers of students with disabilities, students learning English, and students from extreme poverty. All too often, the rise or fall of test scores reflects the composition of the classroom and factors beyond the teachers’ control, not the quality of the teacher. A teacher who is rated effective one year may well be ineffective the next year, depending on which students are assigned to his or her class.”

“Is this what we want to achieve with teacher-evaluation reform?” asked Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, cochairman of School Redesign Network (SRN) in a recent article.

“Everyone agrees that teacher evaluation in the United States needs an overhaul. Although successful systems exist, most districts are not using approaches that help teachers improve or remove those who cannot improve in a timely way. Clearly, we need a change,” continued Darling-Hammond, who then added, “as in other professions, good evaluation starts with rigorous, ongoing assessment by experts who review teachers’ instruction based on professional standards.”

The NY Post, in its editorial supporting the teacher ratings publication, stated, “It’s about transparency, it’s about accountability “¦ it’s about the 1.1 million children enrolled in its public schools “¦ Now, for the first time, a fair number of public school parents will know which of their public school teachers are effective and which aren’t.”

In the hue and cry against teachers and their unions, publications like the Post have lost sight of the fact that tests scores are not the final word on teacher evaluation — a fact clearly delineated by both Ravitch and Darling-Hammond. The main portion of evaluating a teacher’s performance is (and should be) a qualitative give and take relationship between a teacher and administrator that focuses and refines best practices in the art of classroom pedagogy.

You make a great point, but unfortunately, that is not happening right now.

“No high-performing nation in the world evaluates teachers by the test scores of their students; and no state or district in this nation has a successful program of this kind,” said Dr. Ravitch. “The State of Tennessee and the City of Dallas have been using some type of test-score based teacher evaluation for 20 years but are not known as educational models. Across the nation, in response to the prompting of Race to the Top (which fueled the release of New York City’s teacher rankings), states are struggling to evaluate their teachers by student test scores, but none has figured it out. No standardized test can accurately measure the quality of education.

Why do they keep trying with evaluations that do not work?  I think it is very obvious, reformers and testing acolytes want to undermine public education and they are doing a good job of it.

Students can be coached to guess the right answer, but learning this skill does not equate to acquiring facility in complex reasoning and analysis. It is possible to have higher test scores and worse education. The scores tell us nothing about how well students can think, how deeply they understand history or science or literature or philosophy, or how much they love to paint or dance or sing, or how well prepared they are to cast their votes carefully or to be wise jurors.”

In the final analysis, New York’s release of the names of teacher “grades” has satisfied the blood lust for tabloids like the New York Post to publish bad test scores and name names. Does it push the pendulum of education reform forward to higher quality education for future generations of New York City kids? Not so, is the opinion of Ravitch.

“The current frenzy of blaming teachers for low scores smacks of a witch-hunt, the search for a scapegoat, someone to blame for a faltering economy, for the growing levels of poverty, for widening income inequality.”

And the blame game has become front page fodder for the tabloids.


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