Rethinking the LA Times and teacher evaluation

September 7, 2010 •

The LA Times story evaluating teacher performance has reignited debate about whether testing students is a suitable way to measure teacher success. NPR has covered it extensively, as have most major periodicals. As the debate rages, prominent researchers have stepped out to criticize the use of value-added analysis of test results.

This feels like new spice on an old story. When debating whether tests can show who are or are not the good teachers, the conclusion inevitably comes that tests can be helpful, but should only be part of the factors considered. Some teachers may be rated high on value-added and also have high reputations for their work. But others may be known as great teachers but do poorly on the value-added assessment.

So…how to assess teachers? There are many critics but few with solutions. What gives?

We wonder if the inability to find consensus on teacher evaluation is because the country is in fact asking the wrong question. What if we asked who’s in the best position to know how teachers stack up?

Administrators can do value-added testing. Student and parents can weigh in with surveys. But alone, or even in combination, these methods may fall short.

So, what if we looked at teacher evaluation from the perspective of a professional? A colleague has said, “If you want a brown rabbit to turn white, don’t paint it—put it in the tundra.” Conditions matter.

So long as teachers are treated as employees without significant control over their schools there will be no evaluation method that everyone finds satisfactory. But if teachers were put in charge of personnel, the dynamic could change. Teachers might rise to a standard, and will police themselves, perhaps better than any administrator could do. Teacher evaluation should be done in a professional community through evaluation with reliable tools, coupled with immediate feedback and coaching. One aspect of this is measuring how well the students are doing over time on different indicators of achievement.

E|E asserts that it is completely unreasonable—indeed illogical—to expect teachers to accept accountability by test, by grades, or by any other methods without first giving them control over the critical professional judgments about schools. This includes overseeing issues of personnel. Instead of arguing over the relative merits of imperfect tools, why not try flipping the process of teacher evaluation entirely, from the outsiders to the teachers themselves?