Self-styled education “reformers” don’t have all the answers, but you can be sure they will continue promoting bad ideas. And, one bad idea in particular that just won’t go away is tying teacher evaluations to student test scores.
Research repeatedly has shown that making test scores count heavily toward teacher evaluations is both inaccurate and unfair. But it has been a major sticking point in the Chicago teachers’ strike, and it continues to be a major issue in Texas.
In Chicago, Mayor Rahm Emanuel wanted student test scores to count heavily in determining whether teachers get bonuses or lose their jobs, when, in truth, classroom instruction is only one factor in student performance. Poverty, parental involvement and a host of other factors outside the teacher’s control also affect classroom performance, and in a city as large as Chicago those factors are markedly different among neighborhoods and schools, as they also are in Texas.
And, don’t forget, education is a cumulative experience. By the time a student starts taking standardized tests, several teachers have contributed to his or her classroom development, yet only the current teacher would be judged by a test score.
In The Dallas Morning News blog linked below, writer Bill McKenzie expresses admiration for Emanuel’s effort and praises state Sen. Florence Shapiro for making a similar effort during last year’s legislative session in Texas. Shapiro’s SB4, which would have required at least 30 percent of a teacher’s evaluation to be linked to classroom scores, didn’t pass.
Shapiro, the longtime Senate Education chairwoman, is retiring this year without leaving much of a legacy for school children, except for the new, tougher STAAR testing program, which has done little so far except to anger parents, who rightfully resent it as an unnecessary intrusion into real classroom learning time. Shapiro and others in the legislative majority compounded the misdeed by slashing $5.4 billion from the public education budget even as they required more of students and teachers.
There is no evidence that using test scores is an effective way to evaluate teachers. But there is evidence that smaller class sizes improve student performance. The budget cuts enacted by Shapiro and other would-be education “reformers” in the Legislature resulted in thousands of overcrowded classrooms in Texas, including more than 8,000 in the elementary grades alone last year.
It is time for the “reformers” to get their priorities in order by putting first things first. Restore the school budget cuts, pass an adequate and equitable public education budget for the next fiscal cycle and then consult with educators – the real education experts – to design an accountability system that is fair and that actually works.