Teacher evaluation is necessary; it is a needed part of overall education reform. But – teacher testing is not the solution to improve schools. The current model of evaluating teachers, students, and schools, based on a snapshot test, results in counter-intuitive results, counter-productive teaching, and damaging practices to the entire school system. There are better ways to improve teaching outcomes and evaluate teacher performance.
Student grades and school test results in a single snapshot are inaccurate metrics for performance evaluation. Looking at test scores in a single picture tells only a small portion of the story. The single test score does not take into account the many factors that effect student performance and student learning. Further, test scores are mono-dimensional and do not measure the student’s desire to learn, their academic history, external home support that the student may or may not have access to, or even their aptitude for testing.
Data shows that schools with a high free and reduced lunch rate also have high failure rate for school testing. This has nothing to do with the ability or experience of their teachers. Teachers and schools should not be held accountable for the external circumstances that come with the students. Test-based evaluation of teachers really examines the student’s life circumstances and does not evaluate how well they teach. Factors outside of the school are some of the most important contributing influences on student performance. Because of this, teachers will be incentivized to decline working with the poorest school districts – districts where they are needed most.
Further, it is far from fair that teachers in non-test based subjects be subjected to the outcomes of testing. Schools that fail to pass the test are penalized; subjects (tested or not) are equally penalized. The arts and science teachers should not be evaluated on how well a student can solve an algebraic formula or how well they can interpret a passage of literature. Students should be evaluated on their abilities to meet state standards that are based in the subject.
Penalizing teachers at the schools that struggle the most, is antithetical to purpose of teaching. Standardized tests are narrow. There is a much larger range of knowledge that indicates success in both students and teachers. When testing becomes the dominant form of evaluation, students and teachers focus on tested subjects. Critical to creating well-rounded learners subjects such as history, science, art, music, drama, languages, and P.E./Health are forgotten. This does not even include essential life skills such as cooperation, creativity, communications, problem solving, and leadership. These are skills that many teachers, regardless of discipline, would argue are more important that knowing how to pass a standardized test.
Teachers should not be labeled as effective or ineffective based on one-time test scores. Because of the nature of teaching, test scores will vary from one year to another because each group of students will have a different history and different academic abilities. It also matters greatly when the test is administered. Testing early in the year will yield a different result than a test just before winter break or a test after spring break.
Lastly, growth metrics are also not effective tools for evaluation. Growth metrics show only student improvement, which is easier to show in low-performing schools, even when the students do not pass the test. When the standardized test is administered to evaluate growth, the highest performing students are penalized. It is much more difficult for schools and teachers to show improvement when a high percentage of the students are already meeting or exceeding the requirements of the test.
There are many alternatives to test based teacher evaluation. These alternatives include, student self-evaluation, non-test summative and formative data, independent teacher observations, student evaluations, peer review, and administrator review. A combination of metrics that encompass multiple perspectives will allow for a true evaluation of a teacher’s capacity. Further, a multi-faceted review would expose the true strengths and weaknesses of the teacher and provide a forum for reflection, goal setting, and continued improvement. Test taking does not allow for any of these outcomes.