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What, exactly, is the problem with judging teacher performance by student performance?

Post by Patrick O'Callahan on July 28, 2009 at 10:00 am with 10 Comments »
July 28, 2009 10:00 am

“Bob,” below, made this snarky comment (below) on our Tuesday editorial about missing out on federal grants to states that lead in school reforms.

Bob’s point (as I understand it) is a good one: How can you fairly use student performance to evaluate teachers when there are such wide disparities in students – some wealthy and well-prepared, some disadvantaged, etc.?

I have always understood that the data would be used to measure what the teacher is doing with his or her own students – i.e., how much did a particular class learn relative to where it started out, not relative to how well students were doing elsewhere.

Am I wrong? If not, I fail to understand the unions’ opposition to the use of student performance data.

Anyway, here’s Bob, speaking for himself:

Bob (coldone)

“…A state must connect data on student performance to individual teachers. The logic for this is blindingly obvious: The data connection can not only help evaluate teachers, it can help evaluate the curriculum they use, the schools of education that trained them and the effectiveness of their principals…”

Fantastic idea. Finally someone has it right.

We’ll collect data on the student performance of a school full of gang bangers to their teachers and also collect data on the student performance of the sons and daughters schools of doctors, lawyers, rocket scientists, etc. to their teachers.

We’ll throw it in a database and all the worlds problems will be solved.

Maybe I missed that course in college where they throw apples and oranges in a blender and come up with honey?

Taking notice
Leave a comment Comments → 10
  1. jimkingjr says:

    The problem is, exactly, that it leads to accountability. We don’t need accountability- we just need more money thrown at the problem.

  2. If all things were equal to start out with, including resources, curriculum, learning ability of the students and whether or not the test actually relates to the curriculum, then your arguments would have merit. Unfortunately, humans, especially young students are not machines, and memorization and problem solving skills do not increase at a steady rate. Test designers for the state do not relate the tests to individual school districts and their curricula, but teachers are stuck and cannot deviate from the curiculum of their district.

    Is it fair to give one teacher a contract for the next year because the students in that class made a 12% increase in tested skills, even though that teacher’s class had no “special” students, and three students who would later be put in advanced classes due to high intelligence while another teacher with three “special” students and the rest of just average intelligence has only a 5% increase and is not given a contract?

    That was done in a friend’s district (my friend was the one that got the contract) based on test results. Such nonsensical use of test results without looking at all of the information is what unions are against.

    The tests do not test what they purport to test, the students do not learn new skills and information at an equal rate during the year, and each class is very different from the next.

    What also cannot be measured is the support and assistance of parents, which is one of the greatest factors in learning, especially for younger students. Firing parents based on test results might make better sense than firing teachers.

  3. “….how much did a particular class learn relative to where it started out, not relative to how well students were doing elsewhere.” That’s exactly the point…the teachers ARE teaching, the students are NOT learning. They haven’t been parented to respect the teachers. The focus needs to be on the parents and families failing students not the assumption that the teachers are failing the students. Patrick, call Tacoma, UP, Lakewood, & Steilacoom school districts. Ask for the supers to pull together a panel of math teachers that you can speak with…do a panel discussion. Listen & LEARN about what’s really going on in the classroom that keeps the students from learning what many, many good teachers are teaching! Do the work, Patrick, do the work…investigate the issues ON THE GROUND.

  4. Chippert says:

    There is absolutely nothing wrong with measuring a teacher’s performance based on student performance if the metrics are fairly applied and gathered. For example, if each student were tested at the beginning of the school year and then again at the end and those meaurements then averaged out over a couple of years and weighted against district averages for students in the same grade and/or curriculum, I’d say that would be a fair indication of that teacher’s impact and performance with students as a whole. Merit pay and retention SHOULD be based on performance, not union scales or schedules. That is how it is in the “real” world.

  5. Patrick O'Callahan says:

    Thanks for the comments. I appreciate the discussion.

    pjizant: I have spent a fair amount of time “on the ground” in the schools, working with struggling students. (I was a reading tutor in Tacoma for years.)

    I talk to teachers about their frustrations whenever I get a chance. I think I have some sense of what they are up against. I admire them. I’m not tough enough to handle their job.

    Coincidentally, I am in the early stages of helping pull together a panel of educators to talk about teaching disadvantaged students.

    I agree that parents are probably most of the equation. But – the deficiencies of many homes is a given. We’re not going to change that anytime soon.

    All that said, it seems that data on student learning could be used in a way that factors in the above problems to make the process fair to the teacher.

    It would certainly be unfair to evaluate a teacher on what happened in his or her classrooms over the course of a single year. Over five years, maybe not so unfair, especially if compared only to teachers doing better or worse with the same mix of students.

    I don’t think data should be the only criteria for evaluation, but I think it should be one of them.

    Professionals, in general, are rewarded by results. I respect teachers as professionals.

  6. logicmonster says:

    Though it may turn out to be difficult, it will not be impossible to fairly and accurately measure teachers for their effectiveness. Many other industries do this successfully because measurement is an essential building block of improvement.

    With the announcement of the president’s new Race to the Top grant program, the shrill cries of this profession being unmeasurable should fall on deaf ears.

  7. jimkingjr says:

    Chippert and logicmonster hit the nail on the head- it IS possible- and not that difficult- to properly use test results to measure teacher performance. Every objection raised by the teacher’s unions to the use of objective criteria applies many other places too- but in those many other instances, fair use of objective criteria are developed.

    In fact, in many blue states- including New York and Massachusetts- many of the reforms so adamantly opposed here have been implemented.

    Patrick- some parents are a problem. Always have been. But the biggest problem is NBOT the parents. To state it is is to buy into the unions’ game of diverting accountability.

  8. jimkingjr, the reforms in Massachusetts that were unpopular (and unfair) with teachers were thrown out three years ago. Using individual classroom statistics and testing as the main way to rate teacher performance went out the window because it was not working. During the time that system was used, Massachusetts had dismal results. What was implemented (yes, with some opposition) was a system whereby entire schools and all of the employees in that school were looked at, not individual teachers, much like the Chicago experiement, which also seems to be working. If the school succeeded, the teachers, the janitors and the cooks were all rewarded

    The main relationship found so far by studies is that the increase in teacher competency testing, not student testing, shows the most results. Massachusetts passed one of the most stringent teacher hire policies in the nation, with high levels of competency and certification required before the teacher can teach. It is extremely difficult to become a Massachusetts teacher, with very few exceptions granted, even in rural schools. That is a big part of the answer to improved performance.

  9. What some are forgetting here is, what holds true for ANY profession. You get what you pay for.
    City of Tacoma just raised salaries, giving as a reason, that they must remain competative in the marketplace. Why then, can it not be the same with teachers? you want the best, pay a good, decent wage to make an incentive for quality graduates to enter the profession. Asking that a young person obtain a Masters level education to teach and then start at less than $35,000 a year is absurd when that same gifted person could make more at manual labor is obscene.
    Want good teachers? PAY THEM. That’s not a Union talking, it’s common sense.

  10. bobbysangelwife says:

    Sorry, but i gotta agree with the parental problem as well. Parents are spending less time following up with things they taught their children at a younger age. By the time a kid hits middle/junior high, the parent figures the kid has learned everything, can’t do anymore. Reinforcement is not done most of the time. More parents are relying on outside help (childcare/after school programs/sitters) to raise their kids while they’re at work. This is the primary reason I QUIT working 6 years ago! Other people were influencing my kids in ways that were not conducive to my beliefs…..I’ve spent the last 5 years trying to UNDO what others have instilled in my teens.
    These ‘tests’ are not an accurate reflection on how much our children are learning or how well (or badly) our teachers are teaching.

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