Controversial proposals for new teacher evaluation systems have generated a tremendous amount of misinformation. It has come from both “sides,” ranging from minor misunderstandings to gross inaccuracies. Ostensibly to address some of these misconceptions, the advocacy group Students First (SF) recently released a “myth/fact sheet” on evaluations.
Despite the need for oversimplification inherent in “myth/fact” sheets, the genre can be useful, especially about topics such as evaluation, about which there is much confusion. When advocacy groups produce them, however, the myths and facts sometimes take the form of “arguments we don’t like versus arguments we do like.”
This SF document falls into that trap. In fact, several of its claims are a little shocking. I would still like to discuss the sheet, not because I enjoy picking apart the work of others (I don’t), but rather because I think elements of both the “myths” and “facts” in this sheet could be recast as “dual myths” in a new sheet. That is, this document helps to illustrate how, in many of our most heated education debates, the polar opposite viewpoints that receive the most attention are often both incorrect, or at least severely overstated, and usually serve to preclude more productive, nuanced discussions.
Let’s take all four of SF’s “myth/fact” combinations in turn.
I’m almost tempted to leave this one alone. Putting aside the opinion-dressed-as-fact that “meaningful” evaluations must include “objective measures of student academic growth,” it’s fair to argue, with caution, that the value-added components of new teacher evaluations would not necessarily “penalize” teachers whose students begin the year far behind, as the models attempt to control for prior achievement (though the same may not be stated so strongly for other components, such as observations).
However, whether the models account for lower-scoring students covers only a small slice of the real issue here. Rather, as I’ve noted before, the better guiding question is whether they can to an acceptable degree account for all the factors that are outside of teachers’ control.
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