Value Subtracted

If the ultimate goal is to improve the quality of teaching, depending so much on highly unreliable scores is likely to be counterproductive. A much more effective and proven approach is to promote team-based, data-driven support systems to help teachers become better at their jobs, day in and day out.

Currently, teacher ratings are primarily based on principals’ evaluations, sometimes in combination with parent or student surveys. Few would argue for retaining the status quo, which provides minimal useful feedback to teachers. But embracing standardized test scores because of their purported objectivity is a false promise. Abundant research shows that test scores are a poor proxy for teacher quality and that adopting them will make it harder to implement changes that are proven to help student outcomes.

New York is running behind the national stampede toward incorporating “objective” measures of student performance in evaluating teachers. Drawing from the vernacular of economics and business, such “value-added” measures suggest that the worth of teachers can be derived from comparing how their students’ standardized test scores change over the course of a school year. The Obama administration has used its Race to the Top grants and waivers of No Child Left Behind requirements to push states to adopt value-added provisions, which are championed by well-heeled foundations as well as conservative critics of teachers’ unions. From 2010 to 2013, the number of states requiring that teacher evaluations include standardized test scores soared from 16 to 41, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality. As of September 2013, 35 states’ and the District of Columbia’s public schools require that standardized test scores be counted as either a significant or the most significant factor in teacher evaluations.

(Read more at Slate).