Filed Under:  National, News

Educators question effectiveness of teacher assessments

8th October 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Maya Rhodan
NNPA Washington Correspondent

WASHINGTON (NNPA) — The question of how best to grade teachers, one of the key elements of the recent Chicago teachers’ strike, is an issue that is not likely to go away soon as 25 states – from Washington to New York – assess the effectiveness of teachers based on the scores their students receive on annual exams.

“Evaluation should be done, but teachers should be evaluated on their teaching practice, as opposed to a one-size-fits-all approach based on a test,” says Reginald Weaver, past president of the National Education Association.

Weaver, a longtime educator at public schools in Harvey, Ill., said there are factors that affect student outcomes on tests teachers have no control over – making the idea of rating teachers based on the results of exams difficult to accept.

“When you have students in a school that have low economic status, or a lot of poverty, and nothing is done to try to equalize in some forms the impact of that poverty, you’re going to have students that don’t do as well,” he explains.

Most educators agree that evaluations should be conducted to determine which teachers are performing well and fostering authentic learning in their classrooms, but they don’t all feel basing their abilities on test results is the best way to grade teachers.

“We’re not dealing with widgets here, we’re dealing with human beings,” says Tasha Levy, a fifth-grade math and science teacher in Chicago. “There are too many things going on beyond my control to place my livelihood on a test score.”

In Chicago, a proposed contract between the school board and the teachers union in which 45 percent of teacher evaluations would have been tied to test results led to an eight-day strike.

“Union philosophy is that the overwhelming majority of teachers want to be better teachers and will work at becoming better teachers if given the time and resources to do so,” says Carol Caref, director of research at the Chicago Teachers Union. “[Test performance] is not what should drive policy on this, what should drive policy is what kind of practices should make for better teaching and learning.”

Educators say failures at schools across the nation cannot be attributed to just one factor—be it teaching, student assessment, or facility—it’s a combination of all three that will help education thrive.

“Teachers aren’t failing schools,” Caref said. “What makes a strong school–welcoming parents, well- developed curriculum — factors like this determine whether or not a school is a good school or not.”

Some critics look at recent SAT scores and conclude but both teachers and schools are failing America’s youth.

SAT scores for the high-school graduating class of 2012 declined in two of the test’s three sections. Reading fell to the lowest level in 40 years. Overall, only 43 percent of the 1.66 million private- and public-school students who took the college-entrance exam received scores that showed they are prepared to do well in college, according to the College Board, the organization that administers the SAT.

A recent Harvard University stu­dy found that students in Latvia, Chile and Brazil are making academic gains at a rate three times faster than U.S., while those in Portugal, Hong Kong, Germany, Poland, Liechtenstein, Slovenia, Colombia and Lithuania are improving at twice the pace.

Similar reports have led to calls for more teacher accountability in the U.S. In the spirit of educational reform, getting rid of “bad” or “failing” teachers has been a favored solution for the national system’s problems. Educational departments are using these evaluations, known as value-added model assessments, to weed out the weak.

Teacher assessments are based on the idea that student achievement is the best way to determine how effective their teacher is—if the students’ performance on a standardized test is in line with the expected outcome, the teacher is performing well.

The results, however, have been mixed. In New York, for example, the woman ranked as the “worst eighth-grade math teacher” in the city was an instructor of gifted and talented students whose scores dropped from the 98th percentile to the 89th, marking her as an ineffective teacher.

The impact low test scores can have on teacher livelihood was underscored when more than 300 teachers were let go in two years because of ratings of low or minimal effectiveness in Washington, D.C., where teacher’s pay has been linked to classroom performance since 2011. Students in D.C. still score well below the national average on the SAT and national science exams.

Many educators also question the fairness of these assessments given the different factors that impact academic achievement as recent studies have begun to show the correlation between family income and success on standardized tests.

Annual College Board surveys of test takers show that scores increase with every $20,000 of family income. For 2012, students who reported having family income of under $20,000 a year got an average combined score of 1,322 and students whose family income was over $200,000 got an average score of 1,722.

Other impacts of poverty in sch­ools include low parental involvement, high teacher turnover rates, an increased likelihood of under qualified teachers, as well as an overall lack of resources.

“I have students that don’t come to school, who get their only meals from school breakfast and lunch, “ says Levy, the Chicago school teacher. “Some kids aren’t in the position to perform well on the test, not because they don’t have the talent, there are more things going on in their life than a test.”
Weaver agrees.

He said, “A student has more impact on the test score than the teacher—the amount of sleep they get, exposure to things outside of the classroom—which makes it very difficult to determine how well they do on the test.”

This article was originally published in the October 8, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper

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