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New York Times Easter Puzzle: Too Many Effective Teachers

March 31, 2013

The New York Times has a front-page story on teacher evaluation, and the connundrum faced by reformers who came up with misguided attempts to use test scores and cut scores and all manner of quantification and formulation in their efforts to find the “bad teachers.” But now, it turns out their systems aren’t working as intended.

A couple of quick reactions here. First, as Randi Weingarten suggests in the story itself, perhaps there aren’t as many underperforming teachers as the reformers think. Still, based on anecdotal evidence from colleagues around the country, I think teachers should admit the percentage of teachers who need an exit plan is higher than 1-2%.

There’s also a quote from a principal who says she could identify a certain number of teachers on her staff who were ineffective, and yet the test score formulation had them coming out of the process labeled “effective.” A lesson for reformers there perhaps? The problems with test scores cut both ways. If you want to empower administrators, don’t tie their hands this way. I’m in favor of empowering administrators to do a better job of evaluation. Make sure they have the time, training, and resources to offer so that they can do a better evaluation of every teacher. We also need to empower teachers in this process. Evaluation should be a dialogue about practice and continual improvement, rather than a process understood as it still is in this Times article – as minimal quality control with no apparent value to anyone. Teachers should be full partners in the design and implementation of good teacher evaluation systems.

Bottom line, here’s another “we told you so” moment for teachers and education reform. We told you to avoid using tests. We told you that engaging with teachers would be better than dictating the terms of evaluation. Give it a try.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2013 2:51 pm

    It was an interesting piece, wasn’t it? I especially liked the principal who felt that one or two teachers on her staff were outstanding, most were competent and three were below average, and in need of support. In my 30 years in the classroom, that sounds about right–a handful of teachers whose work is substandard. And a system that works *against* a sharp, perceptive principal whose job is really to fix or release a small number of low performers (possibly hired by that same principal, who saw something in them) and inspire as many as possible to do the hard work of moving from merely adequate to accomplished.

    Several years ago, I worked with a team of great teachers on a report centered around re-thinking teacher pay. When we looked at the research on matching teachers with student test data, it seemed likely that some teachers whose students did well on certain standardized tests would be the teachers you’d most like to see out of the system. That’s right–sometimes, good test scores are an indicator of limited, ineffective teaching.

    What a mess.

    • David B. Cohen permalink*
      March 31, 2013 10:54 pm

      Thanks for the comment Nancy. I hope you had a good Easter, filled with good music.
      It was an interesting article in the sense that it’s bemusing to sit here knowing what we know, watching and waiting as others figure it out. No surprise at all that there are some teachers whose students test well and who aren’t really the teachers or colleagues we’d consider effective. I’ve even encountered one or two or three colleagues in my career whose students probably did well on state tests, and definitely acquired real skills and content knowledge, and I still wouldn’t want my sons in their classes.
      As this mess goes on, hopefully more and more administrators will speak out like the principals in New York State, and join the chorus of teachers, parents, school board members, and other who are recognizing that testing and test-based policies are counterproductive.

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