Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Teacher Evaluation and Student Achievement

A couple of years ago the legislature drug on until literally the last moment. Final resolution came on June 30th, the final day of the fiscal year. It could probably be argued that the only reason agreement was finally reached was because the next day (July 1) would have resulted in a partial state government shutdown. Unfortunately I see no reason why the exact same thing won't happen this year. I anticipate regular updates on the status of the legislature and this lingering session through the middle of the summer. Deep divisions remain not only on education reform, but on a whole host of issues. At this point there doesn't seem to be much urgency. The fact is that we have blown by every single [school funding] deadline date without so much as a blink. Allowable growth deadline: missed. Budget certification deadline: missed. Date in which to notify staff members of reduction in force: missed. Final date of daily expenses for the Iowa Legislature: missed. The next real deadline is June 30th; I wouldn't be too surprised if we used every day of the next 60 or so to keep up the suspense. Gives all of us something to write about anyway.

The disagreements are plentiful, but since this is an educational blog I will keep my comments tailored to that topic. The major disagreement on education reform is the role that student achievement either should or should not play in regard to teacher evaluation. The House bill has been firm that student achievement should play a role while the Senate version says not. We have all read numerous articles published that examine the merits of both proposals.

Why should we use student achievement data to evaluate teachers? Some have argued that we need a quantifiable metric that measures the effectiveness of the classroom teachers. It has been opined by many that the process in which we use to evaluate teachers is too subjective and not frequent enough. They argue that teachers should have greater ownership in the achievement of the students entrusted to them. Finally, and probably the biggest argument for using student achievement data is that in order for Iowa to receive a waiver from the punitive sanctions of No Child Left Behind, student achievement data must be part of the evaluation equation for teachers.

Why shouldn't we use student achievement data to evaluate teachers? First it is important to deal with this concept of a waiver from NCLB. The whole idea of No Child Left Behind is to ensure student proficiency by the 2013-2014 school year. Schools that have not achieved 100% proficiency are put on the SINA list (School in Need of Assistance) and are subject to sanctions. Proficiency is measured by looking at standardized student achievement data. One could probably suggest that if we shouldn't use standardized student achievement to measure as school's effectiveness then why use it to measure a teacher's effectiveness? In addition, in states where student achievement data is used as part of the evaluation, there have been reports of inconsistent teacher rankings. One year a teacher may be rated as a top performer, and the very next year be rated as an ineffective teacher.

Could it be that both arguments have merit? Look, everyone is pretty much in agreement that a waiver from No Child Left Behind is needed. It is a bad law that needs to be fixed, but there isn't a lot of hope that will happen anytime soon. Now, I am not sure achieving one goal at the expense of something else is necessarily right. But, if done correctly (and I have no idea what correctly even looks like), student achievement data could provide insight into teacher effectiveness. However, there would need to be a very clear understanding of what and how that data could be used. To base an entire evaluation on student achievement would be a serious overreach. I also think we would need to look at some of the problems that other states have had in implementing some of these programs and really evaluate their effectiveness.

In the final analysis I would argue that measuring the quality of schools or teachers based solely on proficiency as defined by a standardized test is inappropriate. Whether or not schools are on the SINA list is based on how well students do on the Iowa Assessments. That is one specific test, given on one or two days during the course of a school year. The fact is that during this current school year (2012-2013), in Iowa there are approximately 496 schools on the SINA list. Does this suggest to you that there are almost 500 schools in the state that are in need of assistance, or that something is fundamentally wrong with the way we are taking the measurement? I don't believe proficiency should be calculated with a high stakes test given on a specific day. Proficiency should be measured using multiple data points taken throughout the school year and should be composed using a variety of assessment styles. 

1 comment:

  1. Students learn at different rates. NCLB makes the incorrect assumption that all students of a certain age learn at exactly the same pace. To tie teachers' evaluation and school funding to an arbitrarily determined performance "at grade level" is unfair to students, teachers, and school districts. If people were serious about reforming schools we would be talking about a complete restructuring, not test scores and teacher evaluations. This is about partisan politics, not improving students' academic performance. The prime directive in all school reform efforts should be "Will this improve students' academic performance?" If the answer is no, the policy shouldn't be considered.