Thursday, May 19, 2011

Teachers Weigh in on Growth-Based Evaluation

The idea of having their evaluations based on growth in student test scores makes a lot of teachers nervous. That's not surprising. Hospitals get nervous about having surgical success rates published, because some patients are sicker than others when they enter the hospital. I suspect dentists would be worried if they were rated based on how many new cavities their patients developed under their care. There are so many variables, and our systems for measuring cavity development or student growth are clumsy, opaque, and subject to error.

Still, it would be a mistake to think of all teachers as opposed to having their performance measured. A great organization called Teach Plus has pulled together small cohorts of excellent, dedicated, mostly young, mostly urban teachers to learn about education policy and make their collective voices heard. The teaching policy fellows choose issues that matter and formulate thoughtful, practical solutions to thorny issues.

The Boston teaching policy fellows have written ten recommendations to state policy makers suggesting how assessment systems need to be adjusted to make evaluations based partly on student growth both fair and helpful. For example, the policy fellows suggest testing students at the beginning and end of each year. They point out that systems of linking teachers to their students need to be more accurate and reliable. And they point out that unless the tests are much better at measuring growth among very low and very high performers, teachers will be strongly motivated to expend less effort with these two groups than with the students in the middle.

I urge my readers to take a look at the ten suggestions. They're couched in a positive tone, idealistic but also practical. And they're the work of a set of savvy teachers who want to see improvements in teacher evaluation come without a lot of ugly unintended consequences. These fine teachers expect to be evaluated as well and rigorously in teaching as they would be in another field. They know they're doing a good job, and they will welcome signposts to help them continue to improve.

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