Results of a recent study found that having just one high-quality teacher in elementary or middle school can improve a student’s quality of life for years to come. But how can we measure teacher effectiveness? Are standardized tests the only answer? A panel of education experts discusses different approaches to educational assessments and improving the U.S. public education system.
“It’s not clear though that all of the attributes that we seek in teachers are captured in a basic skills test score, for example, the ability to teach kids to think critically, to reason analytically,” Toch said. “The other thing these test scores don’t capture is the ability of teachers to teach the intangibles like tenacity and resilience, what researchers today are calling ‘learned optimism’ which is particularly important for disadvantaged students who don’t come to school from backgrounds where education is assumed to be important, where it is in fact a struggle to be successful in school.”
Improving The Tests
Some suggest that if we’re not currently testing the things we really care about, we should be getting using – or making – better tests. Rockoff said that “value-added” evaluations attempt to measure how well teachers are performing in the classroom in a new way. Using vale-added parameters, students could conceivably still fail a standardized test, but if the class as a whole show tremendous improvement from the previous to current year, the teacher could be identified as a high value-added teacher. “It’s an important development because in our efforts to evaluate teachers, which has traditionally been done very superficially in America public education, this allows us to look at what matters most, student achievement,” Toch said.
USA Today recently did an investigation which found high erasure rates in some schools on standardized tests, indicating possible instances where teachers manipulated students’ scores. “It’s unfortunate, because it’s cheating kids to a large degree,” Toch said. In D.C. public schools, Kamras said they take the very rare indications of teacher-led cheating very seriously, but that he believes in the inherent morality of the staff. “The overwhelming majority are working hard every single day playing by the rules to do great things for kids. And I think that’s what we need to remember when we talk about these kinds of things,” he said.
Challenges From A Teacher’s Perspective
A caller, Stephanie Black, spoke to Diane about her experiences teaching in public schools from 2007 to 2011. Ms. Black left teaching (and is now a math tutor) because she didn’t feel that the extreme focus on test scores was preventing her from becoming a better teacher. Ms. Black said she feels attention to teacher training is very important. “I think we need to move away from this idea that the only way to decide if a teacher is great is to use a standardized test,” Ms. Black said.
You can read the [full transcript here]