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Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Heated Debate Over Grading Teacher Performance

A large group of public school teachers marches past John Marshall Metropolitan High School on Wednesday in West Chicago. (AP)

Chicago teachers are still on the picket line, leaving 350,000 students out of class this week.

Negotiators hope to have students back in school by Monday, but to get there, they’ll have to resolve one of the  key sticking points: teacher evaluations. Chicago educators object to using student test scores to rate teachers, even though teachers in other cities have recently agreed to that sort of deal.

Teachers in Los Angeles and Boston have just signed new contracts tying their evaluations to student performance.

But Erin Searles, a striking teacher at Lloyd Elementary School on the west side of  Chicago, said standardized tests need to be improved, which may be one reason teachers are resistant to include them in their performance evaluations. However, Searles does think that teachers need to be held more accountable.

“Anyone could stand up in front of a class and teach a lesson and implement it, but what matters is if those kids are walking out learning something new,” she said.

Race To The Top

The push to judge teachers in part by their student’s work, stems from the reform efforts of the Obama administration, which has used its $4 billion Race to the Top competition and waivers to the federal No Child Left Behind law to encourage states to change how teachers are assessed.

Sandi Jacobs of the National Council on Teacher Quality said Race to the Top money only went to a dozen states, but more than 33 states have changed their teacher evaluation systems.

“Research is so strong and clear about just how much teachers matter. And because we know that, we are putting much more emphasis on whether teachers are effective,” Jacobs told Here & Now’s Sacha Pfeiffer.

While there’s widespread agreement that the teacher evaluation system needs to change, figuring out what comes next isn’t as clear cut.

Delaware Takes The Lead

Jacobs says that Delaware is ahead of the game, because it already had a statewide evaluation system in place. But there were some hiccups.

For example, in the first year of a new teacher evaluation system, music, art and technology teachers were being graded based on how well students performed on standardized English and math tests.

The state revamped the system by bringing together teachers and administrators to come up with new standards, and that’s serving as a model for the rest of the country.

Jacobs says most states are now using a combination of student test scores and more rigorous classroom observations to rate teachers. Some things to consider include:

  • Does the teacher have good questioning techniques?
  • Is the teacher able to keep all students focused?
  • Does the teacher know how to help the kids who don’t grasp the material so quickly, while also helping the kids who do get it?

Jacobs said the days of giving teachers a passing grade based on how nice their classroom looks are long gone.

But she notes that the debate over teacher performance can be volatile and occasionally nasty, which can be frustrating to the majority of teachers who are doing a good job.

“We’ve been too tolerant for too long of the small percentage of teachers who consistently don’t get the job done. And we haven’t been helpful enough to help our teachers grow and develop and improve,” Jacobs said.


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  • http://www.facebook.com/NewtonsBob Bob Kavanagh

    How do you evaluate SPED teachers, Kindergarten staff, Social Workers, Music teachers, Art teachers and gym teachers?

  • Kieran Joshi

    As a former teacher, I chose to teach to the subject (in this case math), not to the test.  My students did well on the state exam, however I fear that my pay scale and assessment being tied to the results would change my teaching.  I’m sure I would have felt the pressure to teach to the test.  Teaching to the subject is more effective and more interesting for the students.  It is hard to pass on my passion about the subject through a standardized test. 

  • Cgferguson

     So much of a teacher’s success is a function of student comfort and respect for the teacher.  Student feedback should weigh 50% of the teacher evaluation.  Also, even the average student understands that achievement tests do not directly affect grades, so many students feel they can “blow it off.”

  • Lgmelodyman

    I think it’s a good idea to link pay and performance, however, it’s only fair to consider the demographic of the class population and availability of students parents to support their children’s academic efforts. This consideration of demographic also has to be undertaken very carefully so as not to be racially discriminatory.

  • Guy

    The public assumes that students cooperate with teachers.   Why?
    The public assumes that parents want their students to learn and cooperate with teachers.  Why?

    The public assumes that if there is a decline in student performance over the decades, it’s the fault of the teachers, not the fact that kids are drawn to do other things  (like playing x-box until midnight).  Why?

    The public should only assume that teaching is not fun or easy.  It may assume that only those who would love to teach for the right reasons have invested the time and effort to get a teaching certification.

    As an engineer who graduated in 1979, I was appalled when my son told me that he was not issued textbooks for his classes.  They were shared between the classes!  Problems in schools are more likely based on lack of funding than poor teachers in the classrooms.

  • Dan DeBrito

    Measuring student improvement if easy via before and after tests.
    Analyzing the factors contributing to improvement is more difficult.Teachers are one large factor. Another large factor is the education level of the parents of the student.Improvement by a student, whose parents have lower education, shouldmostly be attributed to the teacher. Perhaps all parents should be tested so we can betterstatistically determine the “value added” by  a teacher.Let’s do scientifically evaluation rather than shoot from the hip.Let’s measure all the primary contributing factors to improvementand attribute gain accordingly. 

    • Palmtreebeth

      This retired teacher agrees with you completely.

  • Dave Tavani

    Sandi Jacobs claims that we “know” that teachers are the most important factor in the education equation. I would like to hear exactly how it is that we came to “know” that. How was the teacher factor isolated from every other factor in the education equation to test the difference a teacher can make? Were the students in this study exact clones of each other that had identical family situations, identical family incomes, identical cultural practices, identical natural abilities, identical interests, identical motivation levels, identical life aspirations, and identical everything else? I think we all need to realize that there is no such thing as a “science of education.” And thus, there is nothing we can scientifically test in education. 

    • Sm1235

      I agree.

  • Jam

    I’ve heard students say “if we throw the test, they will fire the teacher.” Last year the students in one school actually did this. When they heard that the principal as well as the teachers could be fired if they did not do well on the state assessments, they blew off the tests. The drop in scores from one year to another testify to this, as well as the teacher being let go. All states somehow have to tie the Assessment results to credits on the students transcripts. Colleges do not look at these assessments when considering admission

  • Palmtreebeth

    Student learning is based on a multitude of factors, many of
    which are out of teachers’ realm of control. Having recently retired after 36
    years teaching middle and high school students, I know that a teacher can
    research, plan and implement a highly enriching lesson that engages the
    majority of students. There may still be students who choose not to be involved
    in the learning process. Some students do not have a willingness to listen,
    read, write, or participate in classwork or homework assignments. Some students
    place a much higher priority on their social life and electronic media than in
    the learning. In my experience, the vast majority of teachers are hard working,
    caring, compassionate, and intelligent. 
    Teaching is the teacher’s responsibility. Learning is the student’s
    responsibility. Our culture seems to place all of the responsibility for teaching
    AND learning on the teachers. To
    threaten educators’ already low salaries on the basis of standardized tests and
    factors they cannot control seems grossly short sighted and unfair. I would
    respectfully suggest that stakeholders, parents, policymakers and journalists
    actually sit in and observe a number of classes to gain insight into the
    realities of education today. Please stay until the end of the school day and
    observe the percentage of students who take books and other learning materials

    • Dave Tavani

      Good points. Why do we not evaluate doctors on how much weight their patients lose? Or how much their patients’ blood pressure goes down? Cause it doesn’t make sense. Cause we recognize the patient’s responsibility in the equation. At the same time, how can we expect kids to be interested in curriculum that is often decided on by distant faceless state officials who have no obvious connection to the students lives? How can we expect all students to find their math, science, history, and literature classes meaningful when most of the general public does not develop an appreciation for these disciplines until much later in life? How can we impose meaning on the students and expect to make progress? Maybe we need to acknowledge some of the systemic problems that alienate students and make teachers’ jobs extremely difficult. 

  • me

    yes and no.  my mother was a teacher.  she told me time and again that she only has the students for a limited time during the day.  its gotta start with the parents.  i keep getting the distinct feeling that cry babies are blaming their teachers because they don’t want to do the work to succeed.

  • Dfrey28

    My concern is that if teacher performance is linked to pay. Teachers give artificially high grades or ridiculously easy tests. My child’s AP BIO teacher gives the class a “study guide” the night before each test. Which is essentially all the Q and A of the test

  • Sm1235

    Yes, teacher’s continued employment/compensation should be based on fairly assessed performance. That’s how the world works. To say the kids are uncooperative, or the parents are lousy, or there is not enough money is just the finger-pointing blame game. The protectionist unions have done the most damage to the education system – protecting teachers is not the goal; educating kids is. 

  • http://twitter.com/Toddah Toddah

    It is not necessarily student scores that teachers should be evaluated on, it is student growth and or maintenance of a particular level of performance for high functioning classrooms.  While many grade levels and/or subjects do not have state assessment, all schools should have school or district level assessments that allow them to monitor performance of basic skills and state benchmarks.  Teachers should absolutely be evaluated on student growth toward those benchmarks.  The rub often comes when evaluations are based too heavily on those factors or when the measures that are used are not well understood by the evaluator or evaluatee.  Without that understanding, it can not lead to improved teacher performance (thus improved student performance) which is the ultimate goal of evaluation.
    By the way, I am an former educator.

  • elipharcane

    I substitute teach K-12 in an urban school district. I have seen: computer classes that do not have enough computers for all the students, overcrowded classrooms with half of the students not speaking fluent English and more than half having IEP’s, classes that are 100 degrees because the air conditioning isn’t working and many more problems that make for a less than ideal learning situation. We have students that are homeless, pregnant, and abused. Low test scores cannot be blamed on teachers alone. 

    • http://twitter.com/Toddah Toddah

      No, but student growth very much can be attributed to teachers.  If a teacher can not affect change, then what is the point?  Nearly every industry has its performance indicators.  Not using them is like driving in the depth of night without headlights.

  • Greg

    As a teacher, I have absolutely no problem with being held accountably for my students’ learning. That is my job. However, the students need to be held accountable as well. As it is, my students know that the Benchmark assessment has zero effect on them. Without incentive or consequences, how can this be considered a fair and accurate assessment? If we are going to use standardized test scores to evaluate teachers, then those scores need to also be used to truly evaluate the students. If the student fails the Benchmark or whatever standardized test is being used, then he/she should also fail that grade in school and be retained. That will get the attention of both students and parents and place some of the responsibility on the parties other than just the teacher.

    • http://twitter.com/Toddah Toddah

      Who told the students that the benchmark means nothing?  If students believe they are a stakeholder, buy in will follow.  In my experience, many teachers don’t believe these assessment mean anything.  In those districts that tie instruction tightly to benchmarks and tie benchmarks to assessment, student understand the purpose of instruction and achievement follows.

      • Greg

        In large part it’sdue to the timing of the Benchmark itself. We administer the test in May and do not receive the results until mid-summer. The students don’t receive the results until school starts again in August–when the sores are mailed to the parents, so many students most likely never see their results. Regardless, by the time the scores are in, the students are no longer my students–in my case, the students are no longer even in my building. I use the test scores to judge whether teaching was successful. However, for the students, the results are so far removed from the test that it has little meaning to them.

    • Dave Tavani

      Place responsibility on students and parents? What a crazy idea! 

  • rawebb

    While it challenges common sense, there is no evidence that the tests presently in use will measure anything on which a teacher could be fairly judged or measure “value added” on a pre-test/post-test basis.  Standardized achievement tests are primarily measures of general cognitive ability (basically what we used to call IQ) and marginally related to any other variable. One factor or latent variable usually accounts for 90% of the variance and the rest is random error or maybe a little math factor. General cognitive ability is predominately a function of genetics and early home environment and largely determined by the time kids get to school. People who make and sell tests will never admit this since it would put an end to a multibillion dollar industry. (It is a basic tenet of experimental design, that a pre-test/post-test study without appropriate control groups leads to no defensible conclusions.)

    I have never been able to get anybody to take this suggestion seriously, but what the teachers and teacher unions need to do is to sue the test makers and districts over professional malpractice and violations of professional ethics. The test makers are allowing their tests to be used for purposes that they cannot justify. Under federal law embodied in a document called the “uniform guidelines” and much case law, if you are using a test and taking adverse action against people on the basis of the scores–particularly when race and sex are involved as factors, and both clearly are here–you must be able to show evidence that the test scores will support the action.

    The tests are fine measures of how the students are doing–and it does not make much difference which ones we use. What we would do to measure how the teachers are doing would require that we start over with that as our primary goal.  

    • http://twitter.com/Toddah Toddah

      Teacher evaluation should not be considered adverse action.  It should be the basis for professional development.  Additionally,  no evaluation, whether it be of a student or teacher, should ever be based on a single measure or even a single type of measure.  I do not see that being denied a merit raise as an adverse action, but rather non action that can be remedied.  

  • Kshawl

    I only heard the last few minutes of the program — is anyone taking into account the teachers in schools where parents either don’t value an education, or they don’t have the skills to help their kids with homework?   These teachers cannot be held to the same standards as those in other schools.  If there is no follow-up outside of school, the student can’t do as well, and it’s no fault of the teacher.  

    Arizona used to have all-day kindergarten, which helped a lot, but our current governor dropped it as soon as she took office!

    Kathy Shawl, Arizona

    • http://twitter.com/Toddah Toddah

      That sounds like a very defeatist stance; that teachers are nonfactors in student performance.  It is precisely that kind of view that that keeps teaching as a second rate profession in the eyes of many.  To prove our worth, we have to demonstrate that we are effective in what we do.  Good teachers CAN and DO affect change in students with even the most limiting environmental factors.  It is actually the teacher from high performing districts that face the most challenge in showing his or her effectiveness.

  • Peg Rozhon

    Some of the factors facing teacher performance include competent evaluators, professional development, and higher education. A teacher may be evaluated by someone for whom they have little respect as a mentor. Some administrators have not been in the classroom for a long time and can be a little out of touch with the current methods. More problematic is the “us” vs. “them” mentality that might make it very difficult for an educator to accept critical feedback, even when it is given with respect and intention to positively influence classroom practices. Because of the high stakes environment, there is not enough time spent on professional development that can result in enhanced practices. Professional development needs to be developmental and incremental, with ongoing feedback and opportunities to practice what is most effective. In the universities, some preservice educators are being trained by professors that don’t have a strong foundation in the correlates of effective education practices. Some of the courses fail to balance theory with practice. Preservice programs need to look toward internships that allow new teachers to develop skills over a period of time. Instead of assigning one preservice teacher to one instructor, it might be necessary to look at assigning several preservice teachers to a classroom so that they can offer each other critical feedback.  

  • Nconley

    If teacher evaluation is based on student performance, then it’s doubly important to make sure students are ready and able to learn. The  recent Share Our Strength Teachers Report: Hunger in the Classroom, revealed that 60% of teachers say kids come to school hungry on a regular basis and it’s getting worse. We also know that when kids eat breakfast, teachers report fewer discipline problems, better concentration, fewer trips to the school nurse and better academic performance.  The best, most qualified teachers CANNOT help kids learn when the kids are hungry and unfocused. And, for many children the lunch they have at school is the only meal they will have in a 24-hour period. So if we make sure all kids are well fed (even if that means breakfast, lunch and dinner  at school ) we’ll be surprised at how  good our teachers suddenly get. We shouldn’t punish teachers when what we need to do is feed kids. That’s why funding for the USDA feeding programs should be increased, not cut. It’s a basic way of investing in education and the future of all our children.

  • StephenStollmack

    Robin Young needs to do some research on what is going on in
    k-12 education in this country before she conducts interviews with
    controversial organizations like she having a tea-time conversation with a
    trusted friend.

    The National Council on Teacher Quality (NCTQ), is a
    Gates-funded organization dedicated to data-driven, market-oriented
    “reform dedicated to data-driven, market-oriented “reform.” It
    sees itself as a part of a coalition for “a better orchestrated
    agenda” for accountability, choice, and using test scores to drive the
    evaluation of teachers. Its forte is publishing non-peer reviewed opinion
    pieces under the guise of “policy analysis”, says John Thompson in “Fact
    Checking the National Council on Teacher Quality” in Education Week Teacher
    Quality Counts http://blogs.edweek.org/teachers/living-in-dialogue/2011/06/john_thompson_fact_checking_th.html.


  • StephenStollmack

    I scanned the 25 comments already posted an hour after the
    interview and won’t reproduce here any of the excellent points made, However,
    let me list several of the major areas that this interview left untouched or
    insufficiently covered:

    1.     Her guest’s (or the National Council on Teacher Quality’s) position and views on
    the Chicago strike;

    2.     Test questions, to be tied in with the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) incorporated into federal RttT grant guidelines – for ELA (English Language Arts) and Math, are developed separately by each state without any formal validation testing.  This may be a no-brainer for math but teaching basic math is not nearly as important as it was 20-years ago because computers do all this work nowadays. However, question-development is especially crucial in the ELA area where even the US Department of Education together with its main contractor, Pearson, Inc., was unable to agree on question-development guidelines that might meet the validity criticisms of the Teaching Research community.  They are wiling to wait and see how
    these 40 plus states with RttT grants accomplish this which makes the exercise potentially the largest government experiment ever conducted on an unsuspecting population.

    3.     Young children (age 7 and up) are put under tremendous stress by these tests — there have been many reports of children getting sick and throwing up.  Further, the system suggests to children that it is more important to learn how to guess the right multiple-choice answer than to say read a book.  In addition, some thought has to given to the fact that, since they definitely will know how the system works, many children could ban together to sabotage the tests while many others, who tried their hardest, might end up feeling guilt (or resentment toward other students’ because of a lack of commitment) over a teacher’s demotion or firing, 

    4.     Teacher-evaluation is an administrative function the cost of which is taken into consideration in determining funding levels.  Using federal discretionary funds to establish and run these test-scores database with automatically generated teacher-evaluation indices reduces the funds that states would have to allocate to paying for direct observation of classes by principals and other peer-evaluators.  But the evaluation bill is not disappearing; it is being shifted to the children who now lose days of teaching time or have to attend school for longer hours and are losing gym, art, music and other classes.  This is totally unfair and ignorant.

    5.     Reliance
    on these test scores for teacher, principal and school evaluations introduces a
    incentives for holding back select youngsters until many of them drop out in
    frustration.  It also leads to “teaching to the test” which de-emphasizes classroom participation and working together.  It also minimizes exposure to diversity of
    opinion or different approaches to problem solving contributed, for example, by
    children who think differently (ADD children or Left-handed children) and the
    process by which a group selects the correct answer (through a reasoned process);

    6.     The problems this testing presents for special needs children;

    7.     The high degree of random (unexplained) variability in test scores which makes them of questionable validity for evaluating students much less teachers, principals
    or entire schools especially since it is well known that the factor most associated with lowered educational performance is the social and economic situation in the child’s home;

    8.     The idea that it is socially acceptable to fire teachers who appear to be trying
    hard to do their jobs because the computer said so.  How many will harbor resentment towards those students whom they think might not have been well motivated enough to do better on the tests?  This is not how way we want our children to think; it is the industrial model not a human model.

    9.     Another major area is that these test scores will be in accessible databases
    as suggested by the recent decision of the LA Times to publish the Teacher-ratings.  The fact that the LA Times had ready access to the data suggests that large corporate conglomerates will readily gain access to the entire databases (with scores for each child in each grade).  The ability of companies to buy into systems that track test scores (for the districts they want to draw new employees from) seems to highly probable in the foreseeable future.

    Last but not least is the issue of how continued privatization and visualization
    of our schools as an integral part of our military-industrial complex will affect
    society.   I offer one comment for consideration here:
    how many years did it take (after regulations were relaxed) for the five giant
    firms to gain complete control of the market.  Envision what the education scene might be like (5 to 10 years from now) when two or three corporations control the testing marketplace (already mostly true) and a handful of corporate conglomerates control the curriculum, hiring policies and testing data of 99% of the k-12 schools in the country.

  • SamMosin

    Test scores can be useful, but only if used to compare progress of the same students over time. Mediocre scores for one group of students could be outstanding for them; the same scores for a different group could be evidence of a dismal failure by the teacher.

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