On Teacher Evaluation: Slow Down And Get It Right

One of the primary policy levers now being employed in states and districts nationwide is teacher evaluation reform. Well-designed evaluations, which should include measures that capture both teacher practice and student learning, have great potential to inform and improve the performance of teachers and, thus, students. Furthermore, most everyone agrees that the previous systems were largely pro forma, failed to provide useful feedback, and needed replacement.

The attitude among many policymakers and advocates is that we must implement these systems and begin using them rapidly for decisions about teachers, while design flaws can be fixed later. Such urgency is undoubtedly influenced by the history of slow, incremental progress in education policy. However, we believe this attitude to be imprudent.

The risks to excessive haste are likely higher than whatever opportunity costs would be incurred by proceeding more cautiously. Moving too quickly gives policymakers and educators less time to devise and test the new systems, and to become familiar with how they work and the results they provide.

Moreover, careless rushing may result in avoidable erroneous high stakes decisions about individual teachers. Such decisions are harmful to the profession, they threaten the credibility of the evaluations, and they may well promote widespread backlash (such as the recent Florida lawsuits and the growing “opt-out” movement). Making things worse, the opposition will likely “spill over” into other promising policies, such as the already-fragile effort to enact the Common Core standards and aligned assessments.

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10 reasons why VAM is harmful to students

[...]No one is asking how value-added assessments may affect the very students that this evaluation system is intended to help. By my count, there are at least ten separate ways in which value-added assessment either does not accurately measure the needs of a student or is actually harmful to a child’s education. Until these flaws are addressed, value-added assessment will be nothing more than a toy for politicians and headline writers, not a serious tool for improving learning.

1. The premise of value-added assessment is that standardized tests are an accurate and decisive measure of student learning. In fact, standardized testing is neither definitive nor especially reliable. City and state exams are snapshots, not in-depth diagnostic tools.

2. Value-added assessments will ultimately require all students to take standardized exams, whether or not such examinations are developmentally appropriate. Kindergarteners and first graders will be subjected to the same pressures of high-stakes testing as older children.

3. Value-added assessments will dramatically increase the number of standardized tests for each student. Children will need to take exams in subjects such art, music and physical education in order to evaluate the teachers of these subjects.

4. The most successful students will get less enrichment work and more test prep. It is actually more difficult to improve the scores of gifted students since they have already done so well on standardized exams.

5. Teachers will need to avoid necessary remediation in order to attain short-term gains in test scores. Most standardized English tests require students to demonstrate high-order thinking skills, yet a growing body of academic research indicates that many children—especially those growing up in poverty—require huge boosts of vocabulary to function well in school. Teachers may be forced to forego a vocabulary-rich curriculum that would have the most long-term benefits for their children. Instead, they will have to focus on the skills that might help students gain an extra point or two on this year’s tests.

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