By Sherry Posnick-Goodwin
Curtis Washington CTA Board Member
Last summer, President Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan announced the criteria for participation in "Race to the Top" - a competitive federal grant program for one-time dollars given to California that in all likelihood would not exceed $500 million. The guidelines for inclusion in the competition stipulate that California must not have any legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers to linking data on student achievement or student growth to teachers and principals for the purpose of teacher and principal evaluation. This situation has sparked debate over the issue of linking test scores to teacher evaluation and pay.
"Test scores are useful for teachers when it comes to understanding which areas students may need help in," says CTA President David A. Sanchez. "But students are more than one test score and so are educators. There is no research or evidence that evaluating or paying teachers based on test scores improves education."
"There is a problem when you start trying to equate what a student knows to what he has been taught in that year," says Curtis Washington, a CTA Board member and longtime math teacher in a high-scoring high school in Millbrae. "There is not always a direct correlation. Teachers may get credit for things students have learned from teachers in previous years or that they may have learned from their parents, since teachers only have them a few hours every day."
Though at the local level data is available to teachers and school administrators to analyze and evaluate student progress, multiple measures are used to evaluate teacher effectiveness. Newspapers statewide have reported that the Long Beach Unified School District evaluates teachers based on their test scores. But this is false, says Michael Day, president of the Teachers Association of Long Beach.
"It's been a crazy ride, but there is zero truth to this rumor," says Day. "In Long Beach, we use test scores and data to increase student achievement, not to punish teachers. A teacher could deliver a fantastic lesson that hits all the right points and messages, and there could still be students who for one reason or another don't get it. The student could have been absent, not eaten a good breakfast, or there could be a myriad of other factors beyond a teacher's control.
"Teachers need to be judged on their teaching and their performance in the classroom. It might require more work on the part of administrators to observe what is happening in the classroom, instead of looking at a sheet of paper with numbers on it. The idea of linking teacher evaluations with test scores might be an easy concept, but educating a child is a lot more complicated than that."
Testing expert Alfie Kohn fears that if teachers were evaluated solely on test scores it would foster competition among teachers that could harm students. "Even if the tests were good and their results meaningful, making children, teachers or schools struggle against one another, so that one can succeed only if others fail, is disastrous to everyone concerned."
"Using test scores as the sole basis to pay or evaluate teachers devalues education and pits everyone against each other," says Babette Jaire, a special education teacher and president of the Madera Unified Teachers Association. "Everyone striving to get money for their department is not what education is supposed to be about. It's about giving children a chance to explore different options and develop a passion for something, whether it's art, music or science. It's about developing true citizens of the world. It's good to have goals in education. But goals should not be the only thing that matters."