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The League of Women Voters of South Carolina has released “How to Evaluate and Retain Effective Teachers” (2011-2013), but this report misreads the evidence on teacher evaluation and thus distracts high-poverty states from needed educational reform. [1]

A review of the report shows it does not establishing a clear problem with teacher quality in SC and misrepresents the current body of research on teacher evaluation, particularly value added methods (VAM) of evaluation.

As a high-poverty and racially diverse state, SC is similar to many other states facing educational hurdles, but those hurdles have less to do with identifying and ranking teacher quality and more to do with the inequitable distribution of teachers. Children of color, children in poverty, English language learners, and special needs students are taught disproportionately by inexperienced and un-/under-certified teachers. SC and other high-poverty states would do well to address teacher assignment and teaching conditions before experimenting with new teacher evaluation systems.

Ultimately, this report misreads and misrepresents the current understanding of how to evaluate and determine teacher quality—specifically through test-based methods.

Misguided Reform in High-Poverty States

While the report does acknowledge several important concerns with determining teacher quality, the analysis overstates the importance of teacher quality by depending on faulty research (notably work by Hanushek and Chetty, Friendam and Rockoff) and not noting that measurable student outcomes (tests) are overwhelmingly reflections of out-of-school factors, as noted by Di Carlo:

“But in the big picture, roughly 60 percent of achievement outcomes is explained by student and family background characteristics (most are unobserved, but likely pertain to income/poverty). Observable and unobservable schooling factors explain roughly 20 percent, most of this (10-15 percent) being teacher effects. The rest of the variation (about 20 percent) is unexplained (error). In other words, though precise estimates vary, the preponderance of evidence shows that achievement differences between students are overwhelmingly attributable to factors outside of schools and classrooms.”

Several flawed studies have received a great deal of media support, leading to flawed assumptions about teacher quality also reflected in the report. The three-great-teachers-in-a-row assertion and high quality teachers equaling higher salaries are two such claims that are either drawn from faulty studies or mischaracterizations by the media.

Yes, teacher quality matters, but measuring teacher quality—especially based on student test scores—is complex since controlling for all factors in student test scores is costly in time and funding. Test-based teacher evaluations are also inconsistent from year to year (teachers rated in one category are typically rated a different category in following years with different students).

The current research base on teacher evaluations linked to tests scores shows that creating a new teacher evaluation system incorporating student test data remains a costly experiment with public funds in states where pressing needs outweigh the need to experiment.

If SC and other high-poverty states were in a situation to experiment (and they aren’t), even advocates of value added methods of teacher evaluation suggest including student test scores at no more than 10-15% of the overall evaluation. Many states, however, are adopting systems including test scores at 40-50%, with many teachers being held accountable for students they never teach.

Now, any efforts to consider or field-test new teacher evaluation systems in high-poverty states are inexcusable wastes of time and money. Instead, high-poverty states would be better served by addressing the following:

• Identify how to allocate better state resources to address childhood and family poverty, childhood food security, child and family access to high-quality health care, and stable, well paying work.

• Replace current education policies based on accountability, standards, and testing with policies that address equity and opportunity for all students.

• Address inequitable distribution of teacher quality among students in greatest need.

• Address the conditions of teaching and learning in the state’s schools, including issues of student/teacher ratios, building conditions and material availability, administrative and community support of teachers, equitable school funding and teacher salaries, teacher job security and academic freedom in a right-to-work state, and school safety.

Any policy changes that further entrench the culture of testing in high-poverty states as a mechanism for evaluating students, teachers, and schools perpetuate the burden of inequity in the state and schools.

High-poverty states do not need new standards, new tests, or new teacher evaluation systems. SC, like much of the U.S., needs to come to terms with identifying problems first before seeking solutions. The problems facing schools are ones of equity and opportunity, and no current teacher evaluation plan is facing those realities, including this report.

[1] This commentary was submitted to several papers in SC, but none ran the piece.

Originally posted to plthomasEdD on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:30 AM PST.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and Education Alternatives.

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Comment Preferences

  •  republished (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    plthomasEdD, Mostel26

    to teachers' lounge.

  •  The real causes of low student achievement, (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    drmah, Mostel26

    e.g., hunger and poverty, aren't "sexy." No wonder the newspapers won't touch your OpEd.

    It's here they got the range/ and the machinery for change/ and it's here they got the spiritual thirst. --Leonard Cohen

    by karmsy on Tue Jan 29, 2013 at 09:47:53 AM PST

  •  top secret (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SC and other high-poverty states would do well to address teacher assignment and teaching conditions before experimenting with new teacher evaluation systems.
    shhhhh.....  Didn't you get the memo?   We're not supposed to talk about that.

    This is the system of segregated schools that was put into place to replace the system of segregated schools.  Schools are funded by their property taxes, and not all property taxes were created equal, so some schools have more equality than others., and that's why some schools have more experienced and expensive teachers.  

    To put it another way, some states are still fighting the civil war on the down low.

    That's why we, in Texas, are under Federal supervision, and have something lovingly called The Robin Hood plan.  Everyone here in Texas insists that our schools are funded quite well, and the problem is that they are "inefficient", and that we need to replace the staff in under-performing schools, because it must be their fault.   If anyone convinces them otherwise, our property taxes, which are already high enough to cause a heart attack, will go up again, because we don't have a state income tax, and that's how we fund our schools.  So, no one wants to vote for that.

    There is also a matter of teacher's preference.    Teaching in the poorest schools can be a tough and thankless job, and then you get smacked around, blamed for low test scores, and they threaten to close your school or turn it into a charter, trying to make you feel that it was all your fault and you didn't do a good enough job.  Teachers aren't rushing to fill those positions.   In that way, test scores tend to drive ambitious teachers to the better schools, because who wants to work that hard, and end up on the bottom of the High Stakes Testing contest?  

    One teacher that did work in a very rough inner-city Dallas school lives next door to me.   Not suprisingly, he lived very far from where he worked.  They practically have to bus those teachers in.   He has talked about his experience.   The drug pushers walk past the school all day, and no matter how many times he calls the cops, they are back the next day.   There is a lot of physical violence, and part of his training was to learn how to physically take down and restrain a combative high school student (and hope the kids doesn't have a knife).  He said a good day was a day in which the class actually got through the day without a major disruption, and that getting to the point of actually teaching something was a distant dream.   It worried him greatly, and he talked to his supervisor, who assured him that he was doing a great job, just by keeping the class under control.   These kids could eat an inexperienced teacher for breakfast, and have room for three more.

    They laid him off in the latest funding cut massacre.   He was starting to get some experience in working in that environment.  That's probably why they laid him off.   He had had a few raises and was getting paid a bit more than those inexperienced teachers that you mentioned.  

    And, even if you get the best trained teachers in the world, you can't erase the effects of poverty on test scores.   I'm so tired of talking about teacher quality.    There are other factors in education.   It's a complex system.   Half of our schools are functioning as drug rehab facilities, trying to teach kids basic civility who were never taught to be civilized.    Teacher quality is important, but not all problems in education are problems of teacher quality.


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