Monday, December 27, 2010

Testing and Evaluation

An interesting and balanced article in the New York Times today about  the practice of using student test data to rank teacher quality.   It's a practice that I believe has potential in the field of education, but also serious limitations.   My biggest concern, is that it is now used simply as a proxy for honest and robust evaluation, most likley because it is easy to use.  I can hear it now, "I don't want to let you go, but I can't ignore the data."  True feedback about effective teaching will not come on a printout derived from an algorithm.  Make no mistake, I believe teachers should be accountable, and that there needs to be serious coversations about the role of seniority and tenure within the field of education.   We need to understand what makes a quality teacher, and how quality teachers are different from less effective teachers. Testing may be a part of how we come to that understanding.   But it should not be a replacement.  To a large extent, I feel the current emphasis on testing is the result of resistance by teacher unions to offer up more cost effective and robust solutions that are available.   Create that system, and the need for testing and the negative externalities associated with testing diminish if not disappear.

Here's a bit from the Times' article:

“I feel as though I don’t exist,” she said last Monday, looking up from playing a vocabulary game with her students.

Down the hall, Deirdre Corcoran, a fifth-grade teacher, received a ranking for a year when she was out on child-care leave. In three other classrooms at this highly ranked school, fourth-grade teachers were ranked among the worst in the city at teaching math, even though their students’ average score on the state math exam was close to four, the highest score.

“If I thought they gave accurate information, I would take them more seriously,” the principal of P.S. 321, Elizabeth Phillips, said about the rankings. “But some of my best teachers have the absolute worst scores,” she said, adding that she had based her assessment of those teachers on “classroom observations, talking to the children and the number of parents begging me to put their kids in their classes.”

More thoughtful conversation about VAM over at Stories from School.   A conversation that makes me that much more confident that if teacher-leaders made decisions about school reform, we'd be much better off than we are now.

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