Using Students’ Scores to Evaluate Teachers Is Insane and Reckless

A highly embarrassing photo of me from my elementary days.

A highly embarrassing photo of me from my elementary days.

Mercedes Schneider’s recent post on her standardized tests from her elementary days got me thinking about this recent craze—there really is no other word for it—to evaluate teachers using students’ test scores. How stupid has this country become?

If our students are failing, it MUST be the teachers’ fault. Never mind parental involvement, home environment, socio-economic status, chemical imbalances, or a host of other factors. Teachers MUST be blamed, branded, and banished.

I can still recall the results from my fourth grade standardized test: an impressive 7.2 grade level. Did this mean I was ready for the 7th grade—precocious, wasn’t I?—but a teacher explained that it did not mean I was ready for 7th grade material. What that number meant was an average 7th grader taking this test would have made roughly the same score that I did. I must admit, it still made me feel good.

I do remember, however, that as good as that score was, it was never used to evaluate the incomparable Mrs. Pratt, a wonderful lady who inspired me to follow in her footsteps. In the 1970s, that would have been inconceivable to misuse the scores in that fashion. The test measured MY skills, and while I’m certainly not minimizing Mrs. Pratt’s incredible teaching, those scores were only partially inspired by her. I had two loving parents who insisted that I do homework, take time to share it with them, and study for tests. I had a middle-class upbringing, and though a skinny, awkward kid, I was fed well and never wanted for anything, certainly not French Fries, my favorite food then.

My point is this: Mrs. Pratt was ONE piece of a complicated puzzle. It would be insane and reckless to try to assign the entirety of that test score to her.

But that is PRECISELY what we do today. Not only is it shameful, it’s abusive to these people in this noble profession.

The latest reformer fad is to label teachers with a number, and part of that number MUST come from student scores. If our students are failing, it MUST be the teachers’ fault. Never mind parental involvement, home environment, socio-economic status, chemical imbalances, or a host of other factors. Teachers MUST be blamed, branded, and banished.

We don’t judge dentists based on their patients’ cavities, do we? We don’t evaluate doctors on their patients’ poor food choices, do we? We don’t gauge lawyers based on their clients’s actions, do we? Then why is it okay to threaten teachers based on the performance of their students?

How can we evaluate teachers? That difficult question can’t be tackled easily. Before Superintendent John White arrived, Louisiana’s evaluation system rated 96% of teachers as satisfactory and only 4% as unsatisfactory. That did not sit well with many reformers who claimed unjustly that Louisiana’s state rankings (48th or 49th usually) must mean that bad teachers are producing this situation, so we must weed them out. Reformers then spent millions creating a new, four-level, evaluation system to better identify those bad apples.

Where has that hard work produced? Last year, 4% of teachers were ranked ineffective, same as four years ago.

What a grand waste of our time and money.

We are nowhere any closer to identifying what makes a good teacher. That indescribable quality in good teachers is as elusive as a moonbeam or a ray of sunshine.

When I saw Mrs. Pratt some time ago, I told her how wonderful it was to be a teacher. Today, I don’t know if she or I would dare enter such an abusive relationship, where we would be scapegoated for a host of issues over which we have little control.

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