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.