Student Test Scores Should Not Be Used to Evaluate Teachers

A lasting legacy of the No Child Left Behind federal legislation has been the notion of tying student test scores to teachers’ job evaluations. Due to the controversy of such an idea, the school districts around the country who have implemented it have limited its impact on a teacher’s overall performance.

Now, New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is proposing to make test scores the primary factor in rating teachers, increasing the weight to 50 percent and downgrading the impact of traditional principal classroom observations to a scant 15 percent.

Teachers’ unions are not happy about this development especially considering that many of the politicians who support this trend are Democrats, the party that teachers financially support.

The question is: Is it possible for students to perform poorly on tests but still have a skillful teacher? The answer: absolutely. Is it possible for patients to be in poor health but still have a skillful physician?

Let’s say a doctor gets paid based on how healthy his patients are. Looking at this nation’s fitness statistics, an awful lot of physicians would be taking a pay cut.

Some aspects of a person’s health are based on lifestyle, while other ailments come on randomly or genetically. A doctor can only control a small amount of the choices a patient makes. And the same concept applies to education.

Yes, brilliant teachers can make a difference in some students’ academic life. But there will remain others that a teacher can’t reach, reasons entirely out of the influence of the educator. Teachers are not miracle workers. Learning is a two-way street.

An Advanced Placement teacher may falsely appear as a master of pedagogy since his students score high while a special education teacher of higher quality could have her job in jeopardy since her students score low.

As noted education writer Diane Ravitch said on her website, “ The majority of the variation in test scores is attributable to factors outside of the teacher’s control such as student and family background, poverty, curriculum, and unmeasured influences.”

To primarily use test scores to determine teacher quality is insulting. Education should not be so finely defined to view academic success as a high score on a test. I have had plenty of hand-raising young people who stimulate discussions, yet who struggle with expressing themselves on paper.

As a teacher, I use multiple measures to determine if my students meet language arts standards.   This includes class participation, speaking ability, writing competency, as well as test-taking skills.   A student can’t be judged solely in one of those areas and be given a grade that meets all the standards.   And neither can a teacher be judged competent on a test that is not even created by that instructor.

Numbers drive our society and No Child Left Behind with its standardized test scores that determine rankings of schools fed into that mentality. Remember when schools were rated according to their Academic Performance Index or API scores? Parents in Glendale bragged about their children attending the La Crescenta schools with the highest API numbers in the district. Did that mean that the teachers up on the hill were better than those in the southern part of the city?

No doubt looking at test results versus having principals make classroom visits takes less time. But it also reveals less information. Having humans observe a teacher live in front of students is a much more accurate assessment tool. The dynamic between teacher and student, the energy level in the room, the enthusiasm of the student doing work all don’t appear in a test score.

Those in charge of change in education, i.e., non-educators, should wake up and realize that there is a growing sentiment among educators and parents to lessen the influence of standardized test scores in classrooms.

Job number one is to attract people to the profession; job number two is to ensure that those good teachers already in classrooms remain there. Teaching already has enough negatives to dissuade people from entering the field. We don’t need to worsen how educators get evaluated to further erode the confidence of this country’s faculty.

Strangers Doing the Right Thing is the Neighborly Thing to Do

Call me old-fashioned but I’m the type of person who believes in doing the right thing. It is a philosophy that flows through the way I conduct my life, including my teaching.

So it never ceases to boggle my mind when others don’t do the right thing.

Take, for example, the suspected driver of the car who killed the four-year-old girl in Glendale last week. No one can fathom the depth of that family’s grief. And no one can fathom what goes on in the mind of a driver who upon hitting another human being decides the best action to take is to flee the scene.

One can debate whether the driver or the girl was at fault. One cannot debate, however, about the one indisputable fact—the driver did not stop.

It goes beyond cowardice. How can a person treat another person like that? What kind of people are amongst us?

It was amazing that the individual turned himself in . . . the next day. All the more remarkable considering that the majority of hit and run drivers never get caught.

Based on an internal LAPD memo last fall that Channel 4 News obtained, “nearly four out of every five hit-and-run cases are never solved” with arrests made in “less than 20 percent of the 20,000 hit and run cases that get reported each year.” So, 54 hit-and-run events occur each day in Los Angeles. That is a lot of people who are menaces to society while driving around in 2-ton vehicles.

A few weeks ago the Florida Supreme Court ruled that hit-and-run drivers can’t be prosecuted if they have no knowledge that they were in an accident. Yes, read that sentence again. The case involved a 15-year-old skateboarder who was dragged 90 feet by a truck and whose board was cut in two with witnesses observing the truck going up and down over it. Yet the driver had no clue what had happened.

Glendale is ranked 194th out of the 200 largest U.S. cities in terms of safe driving in the 2014 Allstate Best Drivers Report where there is a 72% chance of a driver being involved in an accident.

Hitting walkers is not just an L.A. thing. Pedestrian incidents have gotten so out of control in Chicago averaging 3,000 a year, 30 of them fatal, that hundreds of signs were posted actually using drawings as to what drivers need to do when encountering them—stop—and we’re talking about marked crosswalks. Wow, do we really need to have a sign to remind drivers to stop for those walking? Evidently since over 250 of the nearly 350 signs costing $500 apiece were damaged by cars.

Another kind of do-they-really-need-to-spell-it-out signs can be viewed on Kenneth Road in Glendale where an electronic message board flashes a reminder that bicyclists need to obey all traffic rules. Unfortunately, such a memo needs displaying. Think about how many times you have actually noticed a bicyclist slow down (forget about stopping) at a 4-way or signaled stop. It occurs so rarely that when I actually see it I feel like high-fiving the rider if only he would slow down long enough.

It used to be “share the road” meant that drivers should take caution when passing bicyclists. However, the new slogan should read “share the road rules” for so many cyclists seem hell bent on never stopping while on a bike.

Pedestrians, bicyclists, drivers make up the traffic mix that we all traverse. When my son passed his behind-the-wheel driving test last week, I felt like celebrating his achievement until I realized what jungle he will have to survive in as a solo driver.

As a community, we depend on all of us to obey the laws. When just a small number don’t, all of us get impacted. And when accidents happen, we count on adults doing the right thing.