Top Education Experts Raise Caution on Teacher Evaluations

By Kevin Hart

Evaluating teachers based on students’ standardized test scores may be en vogue, but a panel of America’s leading education experts is warning that the process is badly flawed and is likely to result in misguided personnel decisions that could harm public education.

Ten prominent education scholars have drafted a policy letter on behalf of the Economic Policy Institute – and are inviting those who care about public education to sign it – warning of the perils of linking teacher evaluations to standardized test scores.

The authors are a “who’s who” of leading researchers in the field of education, including Eva L. Baker, a UCLA professor and co-director of the National Center for Evaluation Standards and Student Testing; Paul Barton, former director of the Policy Information Center of the Educational Testing Service; Stanford Professor Linda Darling-Hammond; education historian and New York University Professor Diane Ravitch; and several other prominent figures.

“Too many policymakers have recently adopted the misguided belief that improvements in students’ scores on standardized tests in mathematics and reading can be heavily relied upon to evaluate, reward, and remove the teachers of these tested students,” the authors write. “However, even the most sophisticated use of test scores, value added modeling (VAM), is a flawed and inaccurate way to judge whether teachers are effective or ineffective.”

The authors warn that heavy use of value-added modeling in teacher evaluation will “misidentify large numbers of both effective and ineffective teachers,” and cite recent research that concluded that value-added modeling was too inaccurate to be used as a primary means for evaluating teachers.

“Adopting an invalid teacher evaluation system and tying it to rewards and sanctions is likely to lead to inaccurate personnel decisions and to demoralize teachers, causing talented teachers to avoid high-needs students and schools, or to leave the profession entirely, and discouraging potentially effective teachers from entering it. Educational outcomes will suffer as a consequence,” the authors write.

EPI is encouraging educators and citizens who are concerned about the future direction of public education to sign the letter and to encourage their friends to do the same. To add your name to the list of signatories, click here.

  • KTeacher

    Why are we so afraid of linking test scores to teacher effectiveness? I have special education students in my room each year and would never be afraid to use their beginning and end of the year test scores to show their progress. This coupled with observations/evaluations of teaching approaches should give the administration a starting point to discuss merit pay. Merit pay only makes for a more effective, more motivated teacher. That’s a win-win situation for the school, the teacher and the students!

  • Stephanie

    Absolutely unfair to judge teachers based on their students successes or failures. I have awesome evaluations for the last 5 years, but this year the students are different. Parents are walking disasters too.

  • Terry Therkildsen

    If we applied Value Added Modeling to the Los Angeles Times, would their declining circulation and other problems, (high turnover of editors, loss of advertising dollar,etc.) put the paper in the “less effective” category when compared to means of disseminating information? I’m sure the paper would be the first to come to their own defense and claim that there were other extenuating circumstances…

  • Cathy Mundstock

    How about applying the rule of value-added to families? Each student’s family would have a rating, much like states, districts, schools and teachers. Perhaps each student would have a value after three years of schooling, showing how they learn new things.

  • Joann Barber

    These evaluations set by people who have never been in a classroom to understand the complexity of educating a child is driving great teachers to other careers. How do you evaluate the award winning Music teacher, or the creative awesome Art teacher, or the P.E. teacher by evaluating the students for their Reading and Math skills’ growth? Making them spend 20 minutes of each class teaching Reading isn’t the answer. Since Legislators want to set the criteria for teachers’ evaluations, let the teachers set the criteria to keep legislators after their first year.

  • JRusso

    The “powers to be” have forgotten (or have NEVER learned) that we are not teaching merchandise on a shelf, but are relating to living,active beings. To attempt to assign a number range to all children, teens and young adults and then expect 100% of them to accomplish set goals is outrageous. There are too many variables involved when dealing with humans. Thus the reason for the Bell Curve. Good Heavens! Just let us teach!

  • SRohal

    As a retired teacher I have followed closely the nation-wide trend toward value-added modeling as part of teacher evaluation. IF it were just a part of teacher evaluation, that is one thing. BUT we all know that the public will focus on those test scores which, of course, is what the media will publish. Excellent teachers are not identified by their students’ tests scores, but by what they do in their classrooms to help each of their students to achieve to his or her potential.

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  • I think it’s hurtful to students and ludricrous to judge teachers on standardized test scores alone. Many standardized tests are not written or produced with all the diverse groups of students we have in Wisconsin. Also, I believe portfolios should be included in this. Unfortunately, the school I was formerly at now has a group of people from Miami coming in, nice people, but they were pulling out students to teach them to test well from classrooms. Most of the time I never saw them. I sure could have used their help with 40 to 50 students. How can one even teaach with that many students? This has just gone too far and I agree with a comment above that the evaluations for teachers are done by people who really don’t even know the subject one is teaching or how to teach. On one evaluation I had, I didn’t even recognize myself- the evaluator – an administrator was so off base it didn’t make sense! Another administrator didnt know proper English and I am an English teacher.
    Other teachers received good evaluations if they were favored by the administrators. I could go on and on, but this is a very sad state of affairs for students and really teachers too. I recently learned that one teacher in the former building I was in is now working on a masters or PHd. on testing!!.. while she has an aide do most of her work. I’m sure she’ll get a good evaluation, but she’s really doing nothing lately except working on a PH.D. What administrator in their right mind would permit this… someone from the DPI??? So much for integrity in education.
    I firmly believe principals and administrators need to be in classrooms teaching at least two weeks to a month out of a year to realize what they are missing and to renew their knowledge of what’s happening in classrooms and the changes in learning. This should be a requirement too. And yes, it would really help iof legislators had that opportunity too. Our youth’s future depends on good, creative, caring teachers- not crazy evaluations which mean nothing. Oh, and one other thing, it also depends on integrity teachers who do follow through on their work and not miss numerous days – take honeymoons or go off for weekends when the rest of the teachers are working- there should be consequences for this in evaluations too. But at the school I resigned from this was not happening it was getting worse. Sad to say it was getting so bad that teachers were demoralized and not standing up and supporting one another. This is is a cliche but this is “only the tip of the iceberg” in what’s going on in this school and others like itin the same district.