At a meeting of teacher’s union chapter leaders I attended recently to talk about Race to the Top, I was struck by two things: one was how open they were in private about the fact that current ways of evaluating teachers are appallingly bad; the other was how hungry they were for a clearer understanding of how evaluation of teachers using test scores (one of the things States were strongly encouraged to include in their Race applications) would work. I gave my modest attempt to explain how it would work and why it was a bad idea. Now, fortunately, they can discard my critique, and get the real thing. Authors including Richard Rothstein, Helen Ladd, Diane Ravitch, and several eminent psychometricians (including Richard Shavelson, Ed Haertel and Lorrie Shepard) have made an unanswerable (but, as the authors certainly know, eminently ignorable) case against using test scores, even value added modeling methods, to evaluate teachers (here). Here’s the executive summary:
Every classroom should have a well-educated, professional teacher, and school systems should recruit, prepare, and retain teachers who are qualified to do the job. Yet in practice, American public schools generally do a poor job of systematically developing and evaluating teachers. Many policy makers have recently come to believe that this failure can be remedied by calculating the improvement in students’ scores on standardized tests in mathematics and reading, and then relying heavily on these calculations to evaluate, reward, and remove the teachers of these tested students.
While there are good reasons for concern about the current system of teacher evaluation, there are also good reasons to be concerned about claims that measuring teachers’ effectiveness largely by student test scores will lead to improved student achievement. If new laws or policies specifically require that teachers be fired if their students’ test scores do not rise by a certain amount, then more teachers might well be terminated than is now the case. But there is not strong evidence to indicate either that the departing teachers would actually be the weakest teachers, or that the departing teachers would be replaced by more effective ones. There is also little or no evidence for the claim that teachers will be more motivated to improve student learning if teachers are evaluated or monetarily rewarded for student test score gains.
A review of the technical evidence leads us to conclude that, although standardized test scores of students are one piece of information for school leaders to use to make judgments about teacher effectiveness, such scores should be only a part of an overall comprehensive evaluation. Some states are now considering plans that would give as much as 50% of the weight in teacher evaluation and compensation decisions to scores on existing tests of basic skills in math and reading. Based on the evidence, we consider this unwise.
Any sound evaluation will necessarily involve a balancing of many factors that provide a more accurate view of what teachers in fact do in the classroom and how that contributes to student learning.
Read the whole thing for the details.