Happy New Year, Readers!
As 2011 begins I have been reflecting on a question I’ve been pondering for some time. You may have noticed a lack of blog posting in the past few months. There’s no excuse for that (though I did get married, graduate from my masters program, write a chapter in a book being published some time next year for school administrators integrating technology, and develop a new software program for fluency testing to be released soon in the interim). However, the main reason has been that I’ve had a case of writer’s block related to this one question prompted by the publishing of teachers’ test scores by the Los Angeles Times back at the beginning of the school year.
In case you missed it, the LA Times posted a database of teacher test scores and ranked teachers according to their ability to raise test scores from end of one school year to the beginning of the next. Neither my wife or I were included in the database because we each taught primary grades where we were establishing baseline data to judge 3-5 grade teachers by. If you don’t live in Los Angeles, you should still care because this method of evaluating teachers is coming soon to a neighborhood near you.
I’ve worked at five or six schools within LAUSD and so I personally know a lot of the rated teachers. I have to say that I found the database to be about 50% accurate in terms of how I would evaluate a teacher. There were many top teachers I knew were wonderful and was not surprised to see them wonderfully rated. There were others in the top ten who have parents scrambling to avoid. There were some highly rated who I know don’t get by on careful planning or rigorous standards but do well be students because of an affable demeanor and rapport they establish with students. At the bottom of the list were some really great teachers as well as some known duds. I’m torn. Since the list is about half-right I’m okay with using it in part to evaluate teachers for real but since the list is about half wrong I don’t want to assign too much value to it.
A few factors the Times never addressed in any of their subsequent articles are:
- clerical and student error (mistakes do happen and a students’ test score ends up erroneous because they’ve bubbled incorrectly or a test booklet gets lost)
- cheating (I don’t know of any teachers who bubble in answers for students though I’m sure they exist, but I do know of some who tend to push certain answers to students more than other teachers do).
- bad tests (we evaluate teachers based on THE TEST but this, of course, assumes THE TEST is a good one)
Although I would concede using the database in part to evaluate teacher effectiveness, largely to cave in to public demand and the Bush-Obama education policies, I would not support paying teachers based on their test scores based on data that has shown it’s ineffective and other reasons I’ve already stated.
Test scores are one measure of teacher effectiveness so what are the others. As a future parent (no current parenting plans, incidentally) my lens of teacher evaluation has shifted to one I think is more important that my literacy coach lens. While the literacy coach googles see Mrs. Sally as an ineffective first grade teacher because of her dislike of the words “objective” and “standards-based,” the future father in me would like my child in her class because it is rich, colorful, and full of love. Every child in her classroom comes out of it loving school and with an appreciation of learning. I think that’s more important than a teacher who drills and kills and gets good test scores but turns students off to reading and school. I think there must be a happy medium but without one I lean toward warm and nurturing and love of learning.
What can we learn from Finland’s school turnaround? What value do you think teachers add to a classroom?