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The Problem with Outcome-Oriented Evaluations

May 24, 2014

Teacher evaluation and value-added measures have both been topics of frequent consideration here at InterACT. This re-blogged post by Ben Spielberg makes some excellent points about both, and provides a fine explanation of why we need to be cautious about relying on outcomes to evaluate teaching. Ben writes at where his bio notes: “Ben is currently a math instructional coach at two traditional public schools (one middle school and one high school) in San Jose, CA. He partners with all the teachers in both schools’ math departments to deliver high-quality instruction to students. ”


Imagine I observe two poker players playing two tournaments each. During their first tournaments, Player A makes $1200 and Player B loses $800. During her second tournament, Player A pockets another $1000. Player B, on the other hand, loses $1100 more during her second tournament. Would it be a good decision for me to sit down at a table and model my play after Player A?

For many people the answer to this question – no – is counterintuitive. I watched Player A and Player B play two tournaments each and their results were very different – haven’t I seen enough to conclude that Player A is the better poker player? Yet poker involves a considerable amount of luck and there are numerous possible short- and longer-term outcomes for skilled and unskilled players. As Nate Silver writes in The Signal and the Noise, I could monitor each player’s winnings…

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