Assessing a teacher’s value

Value-added analysis of teachers’ work is the subject on Room for Debate.

How should this information be used? What are the strengths and pitfalls of this kind of measurement? If it has flaws, can it be improved and made into a worthwhile tool?

Advocates, like Amy Wilkins of Education Trust, say value-added measures coupled with “rigorous classroom observation” provide valuable feedback for teachers.

When summed over several years, these data can provide teachers with valuable feedback about what kinds of students they are most successful with and with whom they need to improve. They can help schools match the most able teachers with the students who most need them. And they can help leaders better target teacher supports and rewards.

Critics, such as Stanford’s Linda Darling-Hammond, think the method is too unreliable to be useful.

While scores may play a role in teacher evaluation, they need to be viewed in context, along with other evidence of the teacher’s practice.

Better systems exist — like the career ladder evaluations in Denver and Rochester, the Teacher Advancement Program and the rigorous performance assessments used for National Board Certification, all of which link evidence of student learning to what teachers do in teaching curriculum to specific students. These systems also help teachers improve their practice  —  accomplishing what evaluation, ultimately, should be designed to do.

Notice that Wilkins supports value-added scores and classroom observation, while  Darling-Hammond prefers observation but concedes a role for test scores in teacher evaluation. Is a fuzzy consensus emerging?

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  1. Notice they use the word “valuable” feedback instead of “accurate” feedback.

  2. Coach Brown from Ukiah weighed in on this a couple of days ago. He made two strong points:

    1. “Teacher effectiveness” is also a function of the the child’s presence in class. Teachers in schools with high daily absence rates are going to be less effective that teachers in schools where attendance is high. The teachers don’t control the child’s attendance; the parents do.

    2. Student demographics — shouldn’t teacher effectiveness be affected by the demographics of their student population?

    The sum of his post is that it is unfair to focus on teacher effectiveness without also evaluating parent effectiveness.

  3. Homeschooling Granny says:

    “The sum of his post is that it is unfair to focus on teacher effectiveness without also evaluating parent effectiveness.”

    Amen to that!

    My family took the granddaughters to Natural Bridge, VA during the summer where we say the geologic formation and visited a restoration of an indian village. In the gift shop I noticed some Brain Quest grade-by-grade work books offering “A whole year of curriculum-based exercises and activities in one fun book!” As I studied the offering, I wondered who was buying these. Maybe some homeschoolers but doubtlessly many people with children in school. Some kids play school at home with these. Some parents pull them out when their kid has some trouble in school.

    We know schooled children and home schooled children but there is another category of children who are taught in both places. What goes on the home makes a huge difference.

    Parents love their children and want to do right by them. Some parents could use a good deal of help. Parents who hated school, who dropped out, may hope of the best for their kids but are probably pretty much clueless about how to help them. Teachers, who are people who’ve chosen to spend their lives in school, may have a difficult time relating to people who hate school.

    I read somewhere that one of the charter schools with several times more applicants than spaces, gives parents tips how to support their children. This sounds constructive and promising.

  4. Liz-
    Isn’t the purpose of Value-Added Analysis to eliminate certain confounding variables like student demographics? If a student population performs poorly due to the home situations or frequent absences, the effect would be seen across multiple years. Hence, the data analysis would show that low scores were due to non-school problems and not a failure of the teacher.

  5. By all means, whenever the subject of teacher competence arises let’s rush to muddy the waters with excuses and misdirection.

    Lousy teachers exist and they’ll do a poor job teaching whether they’re in front of a bunch of well-scrubbed, well-read-too white kids in a Mercedes-infested suburb or in some rotting hulk of a school in front of poor, black kids.