Monday, October 13, 2008
Using Student Test Scores to Evaluate Teachers
For many years, perhaps too many, schools have relied heavily on standardized tests to evaluate students - their performance, improvement, and needs. Teachers dutifully park their students at desks and have them spend countless hours filling in little ovals with number 2 pencils. But there are other potential uses for that data.
For quite some time there has been a showdown in New York, with the state's Department of Education trying to use the test data to evaluate teachers, and the teacher's union objecting to the proposal. Now there's a compromise that, in my estimation, should have been reached a long time ago. Why did it take so long? The state's legislature imposed a two year moratorium on the use of test data for teacher pay and tenure decisions and, with that off the table, the Department of Education and teacher's union quickly reached a compromise. To me, that was the Department of Education biting its own nose off to spite its face. Now it can illustrate the utility of the data for purposes of educational improvement, and can start building the case for expanding its use to teacher pay and tenure. Right now, there's good reason to believe that school administrators don't even know how to apply this data in a meaningful manner.
This data should help school administrators target classrooms in need of assistance, but should also enable them to identify teachers whose classroom performance is consistently good to excellent. (Although if that turns out to involve a lot of "teaching to the test", this whole venture would have to be reconsidered.) Data can be used to gauge improvement by class, ethnicity, gender, and perhaps even on an individual level. By making the initial focus corrective, teachers have the opportunity to improve their performance, and both teachers and administrators have the opportunity to identity classroom management and teaching techniques that could help everybody. And all sides will get a sense of how fair or useful this information is, prior to its being used for purposes of promotion, discipline or tenure.